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by Harry Palmer, from an August 16, 1985 lecture.


Harry_ShakingHands.pngDid you ever have one of those cognitions where you pull a string and it completely unravels? You go, “Yeah! Oh, Yeah! YEAH!”

Or maybe a little embarrassment and you went, “Whoops!”

People go “Yeah!” when they understand something about the world or someone else. They go “Whoops” when they see something about themselves. I’ve been studying the differences between WHYS (the real reason for something) and EXCUSES.

An excuse conveys that you are not at fault, because you couldn’t do anything about it. Not at fault is the operative phrase here. An excuse is a responsibility-limiter. It is effective to the degree that you can get people to believe it.

Remember the best excuses you used in school? They always communicated this: “I really couldn’t do anything about it because...” And then you plugged in your favorite limitation, “...didn’t have time.” As you grew more adept at excusing yourself, you filled in the blank with a limitation the teacher would accept. “I didn’t get my homework done because...teachers don’t get paid enough!”

What excuses did you use in school?

The word “excuse” comes from ex meaning free from and cusa meaning cause. So the message behind an excuse is, “I wasn’t cause!”

To the degree that we can get a person to agree that we’re free of cause measures the effectiveness of the excuse. When you explain to the teacher that you are late because you didn’t wake up, and she replied that you were at fault because you didn’t set the alarm — well, you never used that excuse again. No good. It didn’t free you from cause. Next time you’ll be smarter and you’ll know what to say, “...and the alarm clock broke in the middle of the night.”

I tried this with a teacher once — three days in a row — and then she gave me an alarm clock that worked. She just wasn’t getting the message that I couldn’t do anything about being late for school. So I did what any healthy fifteen-year-old boy would do, I got sick! That’s one of those “Whoops” insights.

Responsibility meter

Ah, but the best excuses — man, you could hammer one of those beauties home, and crowds of people would gather around you and shout, “Harry couldn’t do anything about it. He was sick!”

Being sick is a limitation that almost anyone will agree with. What a beauty of an excuse! That’s the reason for the success of the medical profession. What a talent! They give you drugs to handle the discomforts caused by using an excuse without denying the limited responsibility provided by the excuse. “I’m on medication. I’m under a doctor’s care.” Good stuff!

The best excuse that anyone ever had was a note from the doctor. It was three times better than a note from the school nurse and ten times better than a note from your mother that you wrote yourself.

Forgive my cynicism, but on this planet if you provide any service that validates people’s limited responsibility, you are almost sure to be a success.

If you’re having a problem getting people to accept your excuses, you have to learn to make your excuses more overwhelming. Play with words like “fate.” No one is going to challenge that. That’s what fate means: “No one can do anything about it.” It is the ultimate excuse!

Go ahead, try it. “I’m late because of...fate!”

Feels like it might work, doesn’t it? “Oh well, if it was fate, you sure can’t do anything about that!”

A real good excuse has some side benefits. The person you give it to should still approve of you even though the thing-you-didn’t-have-anything-to-do-with was a disaster. It just didn’t turn out according to plan. You’ve got a really good explanation. Anyone who hears it should still like you and realize you’re not the least bit responsible. Bad luck! Fate!

Maybe we could create an official passport of limited responsibility. The first page would say, “The Supreme Universal Council decrees that this individual has limited responsibility for the events she appears in.”

Don’t laugh, it’s a good idea. What a relief! A passport of limited responsibility. If you arrive late at school, you just pull out your passport and have the teacher stamp it. Think of how much time it would save and how much illness it would prevent. Anyway, I think it is a good idea!

Every excuse a person uses whittles away at his or her power a little. If someone accepts your excuses one day, it wouldn’t be wise to succeed the next day under the same circumstances. You’d make yourself a liar. Once you’ve successfully established your limitations, the pressure is off. Don’t goof it up.

Under this category of dirty tricks, offer someone some excuses that he or she can use and that you’ll agree to. Boy, does this reduce their power in a hurry.


When enough people agree to a limitation, it defines reality. Anyone who doesn’t agree becomes a devil or a saint according to the prevailing emotional climate.


So this is what an excuse looks like: “I can’t do anything about it.” How does it come about? A guy chooses to give an explanation for a situation rather than find the real WHY for the situation’s occurrence.

An excuse won’t alter a situation. What it does is create a self imposed limitation that will permit the situation to reoccur as a random event beyond their control. When enough people agree to a limitation, it defines reality. Anyone who doesn’t agree becomes a devil or a saint according to the prevailing emotional climate.

An excuse is an attempt to deny that this is a cause-and-effect universe. “Physical laws don’t always apply.” Well, that’s probably true of consciousness. Consciousness is not bound by physical universe laws. It created the game and moved on. Trying to define consciousness in terms of the physical universe is like trying to define your artistic ability by something you scribbled when you were two!

But the scribble can be described, and so can the physical universe. You do something and it produces a result. Cause and effect. You drop something and it falls to the floor. Cause and effect. You don’t drop a book, watch it hit the floor and then say “I couldn’t do anything about it — gravity!”

Watch, I’ll show you. (Harry holds out a book, but doesn’t let it fall.) It always falls to the ground, right? (Harry shakes the book, but doesn’t let go of it.) I can’t do anything about it. This is gravity. Right? (He still holds the book.)

What do you know? It didn’t fall to the floor this time. Maybe someone forgot to turn on the gravity. Fate intervened. It was not with the Tao for the book to fall. God prevented it.

Oh, whoops, I guess I didn’t let go of it!

Now that’s a why. The book didn’t fall because I didn’t let go of it. A WHY is a “whoops!”

The WHY of the book falling isn’t gravity; it is because I let go of it. Gravity is the excuse.

The WHY is our shared responsibility for an event. And most of what happens to us — I’m trying to be gentle — is in one way or another our responsibility. It can be a harsh reality. It’s easy to say: “Everything that happens to you is your responsibility.” That brings big YEAH’s. It’s not so easy to say: “Everything that happens to me is my responsibility.” Whoops! See the difference?

If our goal is to change an event or remedy a situation, the place to start is with the portion that is our responsibility.


If our goal is to change an event or remedy a situation, the place to start is with the portion that is our responsibility.


I remember crying because my brother made faces at me. My mother finally put us in separate rooms and closed the door between us, but my brother, the skunk, continued to make faces at me. I could see him through the keyhole. I resolved that I wouldn’t feel better until he quit making faces at me. ...

You know what I’m getting at? For some of us to feel better, the world is going to have to make a serious effort to reform.

As we grow wiser — wisdom is a path of many “whoops” — our willingness to assume responsibility for our own feelings increases. The key difference between a WHY and an excuse is that you can do something about a WHY. You can rectify a “whoops.” Maybe not instantly, but the WHY will suggest a path that will lead to a resolution of the situation.

When we look for a WHY we’re looking for our area of responsibility for what we are experiencing. We’re actually looking for the action that we could do, or not do, to change the experience. When we know this WHY for an experience, we can take steps to change and actually move beyond the need of excuses. We can stop looking though the keyhole at my brother making faces. We can stop being late for school by going to bed before midnight. We can prevent books from falling by not dropping them.


This lecture continues with "How To Find A Why"




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