July 18, 2016

One of the phrases I hear in my line of work as a therapist is the excuse-making defense of “I did the best I could do,” or “they did the best they could do.” On the surface it seems like a humble and acceptable admission of good intentions that were blocked by human limitation. It goes like, “If the ________ had not happened, I would have _________.” If the times, the economy, the neighborhood, the people, your father, mother, car, refrigerator, dog had not done so, “I would have done things differently, and then you and I would not have this problem.”

    “The best I could,” is a form of escaping responsibility for choices and actions. It keeps us from saying, “I am sorry,” and allows us to say, “I am sorry, but . . .” The “but” starts the blame on the endless list from above, the one about the times, the economy, the neighborhood, etc. And the very person I need to seek forgiveness from is now put in the position of needing to be sorry for me who is now justified by circumstances.

    A healthy relationship is marked by the ability of the people in it to seek forgiveness. Healthy people seek forgiveness. Unhealthy people seek justification.

“I am sorry” is healthy. “I am sorry, but . . .” is unhealthy. Forgiveness allows great room for sorrow, compassion, mercy, and reconciliation. Justification leaves no room for anything but a demand to be understood, and then, well, justified. The relationship is not healed. It is only excused.

    Unless we are people who can seek forgiveness without excuse, we are not people who are doing the best we can.