Reasons vs Excuses

This week in class we are talking about Sei Kaku (Precision).  We’ve talked about precision in movement, precision in decision making, and last night we discussed precision in our choice of words.  Before class, I had a brief chat with a student about why someone wouldn’t choose to sign up after seeing what our dojo offers.  I told him that I refuse to call someone else’s reason an excuse.  His response was “What’s the difference between a reason and an excuse?  Really, just the spelling.”  That got me thinking.  For me, there has always been a strong difference between the two.

The dictionary defines a Reason as “a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.”

By contrast the definition of an Excuse is “a reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify a fault or offense.”

Interestingly close definitions.  So, how do I define the difference.  A reason answers the question “Why?” where as an excuse answers the question “Why not?”

I know, again that seems to be murky water.  So, let’s try that one more time.  A reason is factual and unavoidable.  “I have to cancel plan with you on Saturday because my aunt is getting married at my mom’s house.”  Where an excuse tries to paint a justification in a way that you can’t argue with it. “The gas light never came on so I didn’t think I needed to fill my tank.”  Both of which seem like valid answers.  The difference lies in the intent.  Reasons lay out the truth and let’s you pass judgement as you will.  An excuse reorders the truth so that you are less likely to judge it negatively.