I've been thinking a lot lately about how we place responsibility for things that happen to us in our life. I think what started me thinking about this was a reality TV show that I've watched. The contestants compete during the week, then are judged at the end of the week by their performance. So many times, one of them would give excuses for why they didn't perform well. I watched the show, so I saw what happened to them. In many cases, they were right, something bad did happen to them. For example, they might have gotten hurt, or might have misunderstood directions. I felt bad for them because they really did have obstacles that prevented them from performing as well as their competitors. But when it came time to be judged, the judges didn't want to hear any of their excuses. The judges explained that plenty of people are given the same obstacles, but perform well anyway. They had no sympathy for excuses, and in fact tended to judge the competitors more highly if they had obstacles, but didn't complain, and didn't let it stop them.
As I've thought about this, I've realized that it is really true that making excuses gives us a psychological "out". We feel justified in our lack of performance, or bad decisions, or bad situation because of the excuses. Like with the situation above, the excuses might actually be legitimate. For example, a person who has become addicted to prescription pain medications could easily justify that they had to take the pills because of their pain. But when they use an excuse, it takes away ownership of their mistake in taking more pills than needed.
I keep thinking about the Chinese people I've known over the years who lived a very modest life, and didn't have much income, but who were able to save tens of thousands of dollars. I am tempted in my life to say that because of the high cost of living here, and the expenses that we have, we couldn't afford to save that kind of money. But those excuses keep me from seeing that these Chinese people made even less money, but chose to give up luxuries so that they could have some financial security. I, who was blessed with more, should have been able to save more too.
If we really try, we can create sound excuses for every problem in our life. The excuse will sound good to our ears, and will temporarily help to alleviate our feelings of guilt at not taking responsibility for the problems we have. Sometimes true horrible things happen to us, but we can't use them as an excuse to give up, or to not live up to who we know we should be.
We all have trials to overcome in our lives. But if we make excuses for why we can't change things, or why we can't get out of the situation, we lose a precious learning opportunity for ourselves. And we lose the possibility to grow and overcome the obstacle!