Mendoza School of Business

There’s no excuse for a poor excuse

Published: December 30, 2014 / Author: Susan Spencer

Navy veteran Ryan Sullivan got the ultimate call to duty in 2012, to introduce President Obama at a speech in Minnesota. He was thrilled; his 11-year-old son, Tyler, not so much.

“I didn’t think it was gonna be that fun,” Tyler told Spencer. “I didn’t think it was a big deal. I thought it’d be boring.”

But there was nothing boring about what happened AFTER the speech: “The President went around shaking people’s hands, then he looked at me. And then he was, like, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in school?’ I was, like, ‘Yeah.’ And then he said, ‘Can I write you an excuse note?’

“And then he wrote down, ‘Please excuse Tyler. He was with me! Barack Obama, the President.'”

With an exclamation point!

“Whoa!” laughed Spencer. “It makes it sound like just the two of you went out to lunch or something.”

Overnight, Tyler was a star, getting hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. “Well, I guess I was more popular than Kim Kardashian one time,” laughed Tyler.

And all it took was a presidential excuse.

He keeps the valuable document hidden in the basement, under lock and key. Understandably, for as Spencer admitted, “Hands down, this has to be the best excuse anybody could possibly have.”

But how many of us can get a presidential pardon? And without one, what is the best way to excuse ourselves when we, for example, forget an anniversary? Or sleep through a meeting? Or find ourselves at Macy’s when we’re supposed to be at work?

Lou Harry and Julia Spalding make no excuses for writing their two-volume “Complete Excuses Handbook,” subtitled: “The Definitive Guide to Avoiding Blame and Shirking Responsibility for All of Your Own Miserable Failings and Sloppy Mistakes.” To them, an excuse is not a lie. “Well, not necessarily a lie,” laughed Harry. “It can be. It can be. Some of the finest ones are. But it doesn’t have to be.”

Spalding said her favorite excuse right now is “It’s on my list of things to do.”

“Excuses, I think, work best when they’re very vague,” she said. “Saying that it’s on your list of things to do implies that you’re working on it.”

Sound familiar? Excuses just seem to be part of the human condition.

Harry said, “Lives are complicated. But excuses sometimes try to reduce them to a single thing, to try to explain how something happened, push it aside, and move on.”
Through the Ages, the most common way to do that: Finger-pointing! Something even Bible characters may have tried. “I believe at some point, Judas’ mother probably said, ‘You know, he was a nice boy. He just fell in with the wrong crowd,'” said Harry. “I think there’s always a way to blame other people.”

Or the weather! The manager of the 2011 North Korean women’s soccer team claimed lightning struck several players before their match, so, OF COURSE they played poorly.

Earlier this year, U.S. Olympic speed skaters said it was their new UNIFORMS that slowed them down.

“An excuse is about trying to deny — ‘It’s not my fault, don’t blame me,'” said professor Mike Crant of the University of Notre Dame, who actually studies excuse-making.

Spencer asked, “Is it effective to push blame onto other people?”

It is,” said Crant. “There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that it works.”

Read entire story and view video on the CBS This Morning website.