Thursday, August 23, 2012


Excuse and Defensiveness often go skipping off together like young school chums, romping to recess frolic on the playground. 

Excuse reminds you of the Monopoly Get-out-of-Jail-Free card or an existential hall pass.  Excuse tries to stare down Consequence.  What should have been done was not done and now there are consequences to defend against.  The culprit wants to be pardoned, to be free of the consequences.

Defensiveness reminds you of the bombastic forms of argument you’ve come to associate with passive-aggressive bullying.  These arguments are masked in the costume of trying to persuade you the arguer will never chance his mind and so why bother, this is the way it is?

When you find yourself thinking of an excuse, any excuse, even that most blatant of all excuses, “I did not feel like it,” you cringe from your experiences of the times when you offered excuses you felt to be quite genuine and in particular when you offered excuses that were entire inventions.

You like to invent truths, which is to say stories that are fabricated but appear wound about the armature of a consistent truth so far as the characters see it.  You do not wish to send characters off to truths other than those they see for themselves.  Invented truths being what they are, you know that this is the essence of story, an ensemble of individuals all of whom have a different truth, striving for a separate outcome.

When you find yourself sliding into the excuse mode, inventing scenarios that will exculpate you from some task you did not relish in the first place, you cringe even more with the awareness that you are poised on a slippery slope leading to defensiveness.

You capitalize them to begin this reflection because they are personifications of things you wish to avoid, but do with only minimal success.

When you find them appearing in text you are writing, the cringes change to outright groans and grimaces.  Prose should not be apologetic, even the prose in letters of apology in which you are open in your admission of having done something thoughtless or not done something thoughtful.  That was not you at your best, you mean to say, your intention being to convey to the person to whom you offer apology that you wish your transactions with that person to be generated from you at your best.

When you come to a sentence or paragraph or page that on sober reflection does not work, you do not make excuses for it.  The material didn’t work and needs further attention, which you attempt to give it. 

When an editor says of the sentence or paragraph or page that it does not work, you well could become defensive because that is, after all, a natural response.  You’ve attempted to make your “new” natural response the response of being willing to look at the suggestion—because it is a suggestion, not a criticism of you.  The editor may have seen something you missed. On the other side of the argument, you may wish to hold judgment.  If two or three others see the issue the way the editor did, look again, look even closer.

Strength comes not so much from the notion of rightness being like a batting average but from looking ever closer.  Strength comes not from successful defense or stubbornness, but the willingness to watch with care and to register the way watching with care and focus feels. Strength is a quality, not a position.

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