I teach my children to make excuses for bad behavior, and I don’t even require that the excuses be particularly believable. It’s fine if they are, but sometimes the most outlandish excuses are the most fun.
And before you figure I’ve finally gone off the parenting deep end, let me clarify that The Making Excuses Game involves making excuses for other people only.
|photos are from our homeschool group’s May crowning|
The Making Excuses Game is really all about assuming the best of other people, even if you have to bend over backwards to do it. The beginning of it, for me, came from St. Francis de Sales in An Introduction to the Devout Life. He says:
We do not necessarily judge because we see or are conscious of something wrong. Rash judgment always presupposes something that is not clear, in spite of which we condemn another. It is not wrong to have doubts concerning a neighbor, but we ought to be very watchful lest even our doubts or suspicions be rash and hasty.A malicious person seeing Jacob kiss Rachel at the well-side, or Rebecca accepting jewels from Eleazer, a stranger, might have suspected them of levity, though falsely and unreasonably. If an action is in itself indifferent, it is a rash suspicion to imagine that it means evil, unless there is strong circumstantial evidence to prove such to be the case. And it is a rash judgment when we draw condemnatory inferences from an action which may be blameless.
You can read the rest of the section (and the rest of the book) here.
I remember being really floored by the idea that St. Francis would suggest that *I* was supposed to give everyone the same benefit of the doubt that St. Joseph gave to Our Lady. Surely it would be better to call a spade a spade. After all, I’m not an idiot, I know what’s really going on. Right?
And that’s what I thought, for quite a while. But that book stayed with me and over the course of days and weeks and years it slowly chipped away at my hardness. Until one day the kids and I were driving on the freeway in the fast lane, at speeds reasonably-to-well-over the limit, when a guy came tearing up behind us and passed us with a good deal of engine revving and tire squealing.
Jack said, “I wonder what THAT guy’s problem is.”
So we decided to try to figure it out. Guesses ranged from that he really, really had to go to the bathroom to that his grandmother had called him to say she was being swallowed by a giant snake and could he come help.
We had such a good time, we’ve been doing it ever since.
And as silly as it almost always is, I’m amazed at how if I can come up with even one reason, even if it’s far fetched, that would excuse the behavior, then all my frustration with that person melts away.
In case you’d like to play along at home, here are some excuses that have worked for us . . .
Three year old with his parents at a restaurant at 9:30 pm = they just flew in today from Hawaii, it’s only 6:30 for him.
Cell phone goes off in church, rings and rings, happens twice = it belongs to an old lady who can’t even hear it going off, if she CAN hear it, she’s probably just as mad about it as you are, because it never occurred to her that it might be HER phone. And even if she DID know it was hers she has no idea how to turn off the ringer anyway.
A lady is ignoring her kids at the playground while she texts on her phone = she is a renowned brain surgeon texting a stranded Artic scientist though the steps necessary to perform her own endonasal endoscopy, but she’s also a great mom so she brought her kids to the park.
See, isn’t this fun?
It really almost always works. The only limitation is addressed by St. Francis himself:
Of course exception must be made as to those who are responsible for others, whether in family or public life;–to all such it becomes a matter of conscience to watch over the conduct of their fellows. Let them fulfill their duty lovingly, and let them also give heed to restrain themselves within the bounds of that duty.
Which means, I don’t make excuses for my kids, since it’s my responsibility to make sure they turn out properly. And, of course, we have a responsibility to pleasantly and charitably bring dangerous behavior to the attention of our close friends and family members and to set a good example for all by our own behavior.
But strangers and acquaintances? They all get to be the subject of The Making Excuses Game. I love how liberating it is for me to be able to think the best of the world and the people around me and I love that my children do it automatically now.
I’m sure that my own behavior must sometimes seem less than ideal in the eyes of others. So if you ever think you see me up to something untoward, please feel free to come up with the craziest excuse you can think of for me. Maybe it will even be true!
Update: Thanks to Meghan Mella in the comments I now know about the awesome 2005 commencement speech by David Foster Wallace which pretty much says everything I say here, but much more poetically and with considerably more production value. I considered just editing this post to be nothing but a link to his YouTube video, but then I thought, “That would be a LOT of holding down the backspace key.” So I’m just going to keep my post AND put the YouTube video in here. It’s less than 10 minutes long, and it really is great.