I’m in a position through my vocation to throw a lot of opportunity at people and see what happens. Some of them leap at it, some need a little more coaxing, and others always have an excuse.
I recently asked several people to step up for a service opportunity. A small handful said “yes” immediately. I got a few excuses, too, nothing out of the ordinary. Then there was this young man who simply told me this:
I can’t, sorry.
In a strange way, I sort of respected him more for making so much clear in so little dialogue. He didn’t have the right combination of interested, passionate, and available to help out. Whereas when others gave me excuses I sometimes got a little irritated on the inside, thinking, “That’s more important than this?!” This unfortunate mentality I have occasionally slipped into (yes, thankfully it’s only a “sometimes” mindset!) says more about me than the persons with their excuses. And by excuses, I a more generous reading is “reasons.”
After this young man offered a unique reason – that is, no reason – I began to wonder why we offer reasons? Is the subtext asking the person to please not bring on shame because we know our reason is flimsy? What about asking for an reason? Does this assert one’s power and thus, create potential for shame? All because we’re in disbelief that someone else wouldn’t be as passionate about what we are passionate about.
Like lightning, that last thought struck me when that young man told me, “I can’t, sorry.” I wanted to ask him “Why not?” because everyone else offered their “why not” reason. But that doesn’t meet this person where he’s at. It whines that he’s not where I’m at.
Also, it’s none of my business.
For a long time, I’ve thought it’s a good thing to have an excuse ready. Someone might ask me to do something or be with someone I’m not interested in or passionate in or am afraid of and I’ll need an excuse so I don’t have to lose face in front of them. Or, more importantly, I won’t have to do what I don’t wanna do.
Part of this mentality was inspired by a conversation in one of my favorite movies, Heist (2002, dir. David Mamet), in which a master thief (Gene Hackman) schools a wanna-be thief (Sam Rockwell):
JOE: I gotta start from scratch.
JIMMY: Worked out on the plan. Why now?
JOE: When things start to go sour, someone’s gonna be pissing. Looking to shoot somebody. I want an alternate idea.
JIMMY: Why should it go sour? … Was that such a stupid question?
JOE: You ever cheat on a woman? Something, stand her up, step out on her?
JOE: Ever do that?
JOE: Did you have an excuse?
JOE: What if she didn’t ask? Was your alibi a waste of time?
It’s sound advice. Until you realize these are repulsive thieves who are both trying to double-cross each other for money.