What’s the Difference Between a Justification and an Excuse?

The words are so similar that it’s obvious they will be interchanged. Even native English speakers aren’t certain of the difference if you press them, other than the fact that a lot of them know that lame more often modifies one, while good often qualifies the other. After all, who’d rather offer a lame excuse when they can offer a good justification?

To start with, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of the time most people do not intend to do harm. If they do it’s usually because they feel they’re trying to regain ground they feel they have already lost, so they see it more as justified revenge. But even a retaliation is really a new attack, so it’s really just another aggressive form of blaming someone for over-blaming you. In essence then, harm is another form of blame.

Since blame is an offensive act, the only logical reaction is a defensive one, so we shouldn’t be surprised that justifications and excuses are both defensive terms. The difference is, the justifier believes their reasoning to be valid, whereas in an excuse we generally believe that someone is trying to avoid their actual responsibilities. But if that’s the case, who decides which it is?

Remember from paragraph two; people don’t see themselves as starting problems. They see blame as them making things right. If someone won’t accept our blame then we feel things cannot be made right, and this just intensifies the blame. But what do we mean by made right?

The fact is, most people give justifications but hear excuses, so what your explanation is called is often dependant on who’s naming it. That’s why it’s called being held responsible. It’s not like anyone feels you would stay still for it if you were going to experience blame. Even your dog hides when it feels it’s done something wrong.

This means the sender sends blame, the blamed offer their justifications, and then the blamer either accepts the justification or they rename the justification an excuse. But even if you don’t want to accept an excuse, that doesn’t mean that the person who did it doesn’t feel justified. This leaves us with one act with two definitions, which is yet another clear demonstration that the world is clearly made up of individual perspectives, not one central truth.

In the end there are neither justifications or excuses, there are only the opinions or judgments of those ascribing them. Which begs the question, why do you feel it necessary to offer so many justifications to the opinions you hear? You know when you feel good about what you’ve done and when you feel bad. That should be your divining rod, not people’s random, ever-changing opinions.

Forget making excuses for your life. Forget justifying it. See these words for what they really are: explanations that people will either accept or not accept. How honest you’re being will have little to do with whether they believe you or not, so if the person has power over you through your attachment to either love or money, then accept the fact that until you get out of that situation you may need to live as though you share their opinion when you don’t. But even that is a weighted choice. In most cases you can leave.

People will make judgments about your life all the time. You job isn’t to make them stop or to justify your actions. Your only spiritual responsibility is to do your best to stay on a path where you feel good inside about your reasons, even if they were only good reasons when you made the decision. After the moment it was made in, even your own view of it is just another opinion. And you don’t want to live in that kind of self-talk because trust me, you are far too great a being, living in far too fantastic a universe, for any opinion to ever be able to encapsulate all the wonder that you truly are.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

A Reasonable Relationship

1011-relax-and-succeed-the-happiest-people-i-knowWe must abandon our hopes and expectations and trade them for reality if we hope to flow better and with less resistance. Particularly now more than ever, everyone is on guard 24/7 with people jumping on them the moment they slip; use the wrong word, make a false statement, or even display an emotion that the other person chooses not to approve of.

It’s no wonder people feel on edge. There have never been more things in this world that are unacceptable. We are all judging each other quite harshly and we’ll always have a defence for how our judgment is actually valuable, even though it’s us in our personal reality that’s having that experience, not others. Two people can stand at a party listening to someone they just met and one can hate them and one can love them. Our judgments aren’t the world, they’re just ours personal thought-created reality.

As a perpetrator you know this as blame. As a victim you know this as a lack of acceptance. But that’s a cycle you’re participating in and you have total control over it. These feelings emerge directly from thinking about what you have and then comparing that to what you got. You not only judge and separate, you compare and value things, so you’ll say things like, “But that’s not as bad as the time you….” It’s like it’s a competition of who behaves better and there’s some scoreboard somewhere.

1011-relax-and-succeed-its-easy-to-judgeIf your spouse comes home from work angry every single day then they either need to change their job or change their attitude. But if they come home from work and they’re occasionally upset, your job isn’t to explain to them what acceptable is, nor is to demand that behaviour immediately and yet that’s what most people do. “Don’t yell at me! I’m not your damned boss!”

You know what? In the fictitious made-up-of-our-thoughts world of social mores and good behaviour you’re right; they are acting out of sync with what most of us have defined as the healthiest behaviours or reactions, but the healthiest somehow became absolutes. They became expectations, then demands, and then eventually we go past behaviour being unacceptable to where actual people are deemed unacceptable. It’s why everyone works their entire life to just try to get one parent–even if they’re dead!–to respect them.

Everyone’s desperately trying to get back to acceptableness, to connection, to love. The sometimes angry spouse is made unacceptable at work, they come home to seek some solace and instead they are told they are unacceptable there too. And we wonder why marriages fail.

1011-relax-and-succeed-being-with-someone-doesnt-meanBut what if instead of judging everyone, we just stayed aware of what’s happening? And what if our aim wasn’t to be right, or to have expectations of being treated a certain way, or to get someone to see it your way, and what if our aim was peace? What if in every situation we only asked, what would make this situation better? Not the person, the situation. Depersonalise it.

Obviously this does not extend to someone allowing people to beat or regularly mistreat them. We don’t want a bunch of weaker people just being slaves to stronger ones. But in most relationships people aren’t getting physically beaten or even emotionally scarred by big problems about big issues. Most relationships die the death of a thousand small cuts.

If we have peace as our objective the scene plays out this way:

“If I have to work another day for that idiot I’m gonna kill myself! He gets me to spend 90% of my day on the thing he asked me to do and then later he bitches at me because some entirely different thing didn’t get done. There’s not three of me!! What the hell does he expect me to do?! And what, I’m supposed to read his mind?”

1011-relax-and-succeed-when-another-personThe person approaches with warm, open physical language and maybe embraces the person. Maybe they shrug you off, but you’re not judging their reaction, you’re seeking peace. You just shift their thinking away from their boss and onto something more peaceful and positive. And keep in mind, sometimes that’s just silent, genuine compassion. Trust me, they’ll see it in your eyes.

“Oh I’m sorry he put you through that. That’s a terrible feeling. I remember feeling like that when they transferred me to accounting.

This breeds connection and empathy. They feel you hear them; that you understand. You’re now sharing the pressure they’ve been feeling so it immediately feels better. Keep in mind, it might take four tries to get there. But you can’t see it as trying, these have to be very honest responses each time in that moment. Those responses will come naturally if you don’t think about what you want (better behaviour) and instead think about what they need (to feel cared for), because one will naturally lead to the other.

You can’t argue people into reasonableness and you can’t argue them into a good mood. You cannot conduct a relationship in the world of thought because we feel the world as an emotional experience. You have to help the world feel good. A good marriage is just two people who always want the other person to feel good. If you look at almost any marital problem, it’ll be because someone is placing their fears ahead of the other person’s joy. We can do that for a short time, but you can’t make a marriage of that.

1011-relax-and-succeed-patience-and-kindnessStop trying to be right. Start understanding that you give your spouse the same challenges they give you, just in different ways. Take your next lineup and use it to meditate on how you like being responded to when you’re upset. Then consider your partner and ask yourself what their version of that is; maybe you want to your feet massaged and they want to go out for dinner. It doesn’t matter which love language you use as long as it fits the person you’re dealing with.

Ask yourself what makes you feel better when you’re down or feeling victimised. Look at your past and how you’ve reacted to your partner in a similar situation and be honest enough to ask if there would have been a tactic that would have worked better. Because in many cases marriages don’t break up because the people changed, they end because they people developed too many judgments and they traded those for their compassion.

Relationships should be founded on compassion. Before anything else, you should just basically care that that person’s life experience is rewarding. There’s no better way to improve a relationship than to think about the other person instead of yourself. So ask yourself, the next time your partner is upset, will you contribute to them feeling better, or will you judge them and make that harder?

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

The Blame Game

You have to begin by appreciating the fact that you and absolutely everyone around you is in a constant, moment-by-moment fluctuation between ego and wisdom. And so we’ll never completely get rid of ego because of course it is Yang to wisdom’s Yin. So what we’re shooting for is a largely enlightened society where there are enough people living in wisdom for long 470 Relax and Succeed - Even the nicest peopleenough stretches that they can absorb and not re-transmit the negativity that tends to emit from ego.

One of the key ways we can express negativity is through frustration, anger and blame. Blame is the result of the chaining together of expectations that are then compared to what is and then a judgment is made—and this is all taking place in only your consciousness. The fact that an ego would tell itself such a story should hardly be surprising. So when someone points the finger of blame at you, remember to understand it as being impersonal.

As I noted, blame is about comparing what is with what we wanted. Arguing the logic that they had no business making their initial assumption in the first place will not go over well when people are feeling frustrated. What we should do instead is really put ourselves into their shoes. See what’s happened not from your superior position of knowing what happened behind the scenes, but what it looks like to them. I can give you a great example.

I have a client I really like and she is friendly and reasonable and even generous. But you know those tasks or projects that just end up being the Bermuda Triangle of activities? Where no single major thing goes wrong. In fact, if the disappointed person was there to witness it, they would easily understand and wouldn’t feel let down at all. And most people will give you the benefit of a doubt even if they didn’t see it themselves. But when you get those fluke instances where one person runs into several consecutive experiences like that, it makes sense that the part of their brain that’s starting to feel familiar is: incompetence. Now, on our end—precisely because 470 Relax and Succeed - Breathe deep and let gothings had gone so badly—everyone was working extra, extra hard in an effort to make up the difference. So it’s really bad math when things keep failing by fluke. Because the harder the people try, the more negativity they face. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just the natural flow of things.

So whenever the woman would express frustration in an email, one co-worker would feel she was being unreasonable because she wasn’t respecting how hard everyone was working in their efforts to try to ensure things went right. When you’re ignoring other people’s needs to address someone else’s it’s easy to feel gratitude would naturally flow from that. But if the person is continually not having their promised needs met, it makes sense that their egoic narrative would begin to loop angrily through the region that includes incompetence. I on the other hand wanted only to resolve the woman’s concerns immediately. Her frustrations seemed entirely understandable to me and I wasn’t insulted at all whenever she expressed them. I understood that from her perspective it was impossible to see how hard everyone was working to resolve things.

We can’t really live successfully if our objective is to avoid any and all discord. But we can eliminate a lot of the unnecessary discord by being more patient and understanding about the sources of people’s behaviour. If you understand that someone is reacting to their narrative rather than your reality then it’s much easier to not take their responses personally.

As much as possible try not to lay blame. It’s largely counter-productive. But if you lay it, forgive yourself. And if you’re the one blamed, take it in stride. It’s not that big a deal. Just hear it remembering that the blame is them responding to their internal monologue, not yours. Realities are separate and they can be quite different. So don’t exasperate yourself by trying to get other people to live in yours. It just can’t be done. So when people blame you, just remember that they forgot that you can’t see their reality nor live up to all of their expectations.

Now knowing all of this, I wouldn’t blame you at all for having yourself an uber-fantastic day!

peace. s 😉

Scott’s Top Three Re-Blogs of 2013: #1

270 Relax and Succeed - David Foster Wallace by Steve RhodesDavid Foster Wallace was a literary genius. If you haven’t read anything of his you might want to start with Infinite Jest. He’s funny and wise and very philosophical. More importantly —he makes us philosophical too. He’s one of those great writers who gets you to slow down to the speed of life and actually notice things that are right in front of you. Things that make you realize how absurd life really is.

The nicely produced video below was created by The Glossary. I suspect the people running Wallace’s estate don’t understand the power of social media because they routinely have the video deleted from YouTube despite the fact that it’s popular and it ends with a recommendation and directions on how to buy his book. Seems like you might call that effective free advertising, but hey it’s their property. As long as it is available I want you to see it—and as I said from the outset, I strongly encourage you to read some DFW too.

This video encapsulates a third of my course. This is the part about Acceptance. And that’s critical. We have to understand how the world works before we can understand ourselves within it. It’s when we begin to understand that our lives already are in fact rich and not poor that 270 Relax and Succeed - Choose the world you seesome egoic tension subsides. It is when we stop pushing against the amazingness of pure being with our endless personal thoughts about a hyper-specific list of wants and “needs.” But once you’re ready to Accept, how do you go about it?

The second aspect of my training is when people learn to be Quiet—that’s a capital “Q” Quiet Inside. That means no talking to yourself. No bitching or gossiping to others. Just chopping wood and carrying water, like the Zen Masters say. That leaves space for the third and final aspect, which focuses on Gratitude. That is what you point your open canvass at. That is how you paint a masterpiece of a life. You simply stay quiet and notice life’s rewards, opportunities, and fortunes. How can you feel badly if that’s the channel you have your life is tuned to?

David Foster Wallace was a genius and this excerpt from his Commencement Speech at Kenyon College is a stunningly brilliant encapsulation of the first key to untangling the agony that is the Human Ego: We must first become aware that our suffering is not abnormal. It is not a problem. Peace comes when we stop thinking about “ourselves.” It’s when we stop confronting our very state of being and instead we begin to consider others as 270 Relax and Succeed - There is a huge amountwell. It is only then that we learn that every life involves tedium and tragedy. Every life includes excitement and triumph. And so rather than weigh our own agonies against those of others, we’re better to surrender into the idea that this is very simply How It Is. With that acceptance in place we can begin to learn to go Quiet to the point that we can eventually begin to realize that we have been surrounded by things to be Grateful for for our entire lives. All you have to do is learn to see the water.

Ladies and Gentleman I present to you my 1st Place Finisher for Re-Blog of the Year is:

David Foster Wallace: This is Water

Today a special treat.

Every now and then some extremely wise person or people will put together an absolutely brilliant description of the Truth. Here, David Foster Wallace uses his genius to teach us how the world actually works—in under ten minutes. If you want to know what students study with me, this is my class in a nut-shell.

Enjoy. (Trust me, it’ll be easy.)

(And just in case one’s been deleted, I’ll include another below it as well. )


David Foster Wallace on Amazon

peace. s

How To Change The World

58 Relax and Succeed - If you only have a hammer
Lisa Patterson http://cplayphotography.wordpress.com/

There are a lot of energetic, well-meaning people out there trying to save the world. I have been, and occasionally still am, one of the them. See, the thing is, we care. We have had experiences in our lives that make us very empathetic to others suffering. We want to do all we can to quell violence, to settle relations, to provide comfort to people, and compassion to their soul. But as I did before I changed, in our dedication to making the world better, we can sometimes leave a pretty ugly wake.

Everyone’s life’s already heavy. Too much work, too little money, not enough appreciation, and lots of demands. Everyone’s tired, and so taking their free time to have heavy discussions about biochemical corporations, animal cruelty, human rights abuses, politics, child abuse, or even improvements they could make to their own lives, are all largely unwanted. They might be polite about hearing it because they love you, but those individual protests don’t actually make the world better, they often make it worse.

Yes, there are times directed action needs to be taken and thank goodness these sort of people are there to lead change. Sometimes we can learn via social media about situations, companies or people to be wary of, or we can find a firm and meaningful action to take about an issue. But no one’s going to resolve Palestine and Israel, or the growing political divide, by posting angry retributions on facebook. Yes each generation needs to be educated, but there is no need for an incessant focus on what’s wrong. It’s exhausting for the people that love you to always live with your disappointment, anger, and frustration.

Have you heard the story found in the old church, apparently written by a monk. It goes:

When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.

I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.

When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town.

I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family.

My family and I could have made an impact on our town.

Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.

Experiencing anger or a sense of injustice is like throwing a hot coal at someone. It is us who gets burned. And those around us. Despite your best intentions, the people living around you simply end up surrounded by that negativity. Since we have much more impact on the people we have direct contact with, we’re all better to focus on creating peace within ourselves before we go demanding it of others. Rather than telling people or companies or countries how to operate, we should 58 Relax and Succeed - Holding onto angersimply model the behaviour we believe in instead. As Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

You’re not understanding Gandhi or the Buddha if you’re not understanding that Love accomplishes much more than recrimination and blame. Abandon helping people with corrective guidance and advice. Simply love them instead. Then, rather than detracting from each others life force, you end up combining your energies and both of you blossom.

People who feel loved are generous with their time and their money. Being happy, they have few needs of their own and they can instead focus their life energy on the ubiquitous human qualities of kindness and compassion. And unlike ineffectual, angry, repetitive ranting statements, kindness and compassion can actually change the world.

So rather than being burned by your own hot coals, instead simply communicate love in all your relations and you will be surprised at how much you accomplish.

Enjoy your day.

peace. s