It is said that a bad excuse is better than none and anyone with a habit of missing deadlines, cancelling social engagements and bad hangovers can agree that this is surely the case. A child may prefer the age-old “the dog ate my homework” and its relative success allows for the development of many an excuse to follow. Without excuses, would any of us still be standing? Probably not.
Yet recent events have allowed for the proliferation of excuses. And sadly, as they increase in number, they dilute in substance.
The most popular excuse at present is Covid-19. “Due to the current situation…”, “unfortunately, the pandemic has meant that…”
The most popular excuse at present is Covid-19. “Due to the current situation…”, “unfortunately, the pandemic has meant that…”, “as a direct result of coronavirus, we are no longer able to…”. Over recent months, we have all received emails along these lines from companies blaming their inefficiencies on the coronavirus.
Coming in at second place is Brexit – which hasn’t been at the forefront of our minds due to the coronavirus eating our homework. But it’s still worth keeping up your sleeve to get you out of trouble. This was brought to my attention recently by a clothing company that couldn’t issue a return for a grotesquely overpriced polyester dress. “Due to the Brexit situation, we are unable to issue return labels”, I was told. And that was that. No refund, just one plastic dress and no party to go to in it.
Like us, the fishes are also feeling the effects of our severance from the European Union. Exports of fresh fish are seriously disrupted by the new border controls that have been introduced as the UK’s transition period ended earlier in January. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has managed to blame the fate of the fishes on both Brexit and coronavirus. Saying he understood the “frustrations” of the fishing industry, Johnson claimed the current predicament has been “exacerbated by the Covid pandemic”. He told the press “unfortunately, the demand in restaurants on the continent for UK fish has not been what it was before the pandemic, just because the restaurants have been closed for so long”.
“Due to the Brexit situation, we are unable to issue return labels”, I was told. And that was that.
Both Covid and Brexit are fairly good check-mates in the game of excuses, leaving the recipient with little choice but to accept the greater powers of the ubiquitous “situations”. No doubt they will continue to serve as armour for companies and institutions for years to come.
The problem with excuses is that, whilst they shirk responsibility, they also demonstrate a fundamental state of inertia: they say “this is the way it is, and we can’t do anything to change it”. Excuses accept powerlessness over a stronger force or bigger issue, such as Covid or Brexit. And while the two are undoubtedly disrupting and unsettling, and have propelled us all into a state of uncertainty, they are by no means insurmountable.
Because, of course, the only power that is greater than all of us, that is both unconquerable and insurmountable, is that of God.
Let us consider the words of Job “God stretches the northern sky over empty space and hangs the earth on nothing. He wraps the rain in his thick clouds, and the clouds don’t burst with the weight. He covers the face of the moon, shrouding it with his clouds. He created the horizon when he separated the waters: He set the boundary between day and night. The foundations of heaven tremble; they shudder at His rebuke. By His power the sea grew calm. By His skill he crushed the great sea monster. His Spirit made the heavens beautiful, and His power pierced the gliding serpent. These are just the beginning of all that he does, merely a whisper of His power. Who, then, can comprehend the thunder of His power?”
Constance Watson is assistant editor of the Catholic Herald. She also writes for the Daily Mail, The Spectator, The Literary Review and others.