Excuses. Explanations. Reasons. They are all justification.
- The ends justify the means.
- Done with the best intentions.
- It is for your own good.
At some point we have all justified an action which either did not go according to plan or went precisely as we designed it.
Just, as in exactly
The ends justify the means. Innocence? Not really. Pretending to be innocent is more accurate.
You are driving along the highway when a police unit flashes the lights and sounds the siren behind you. When the officer asks what you were doing, you answer, “I was just…” You were doing exactly this, even though the outcome was that.
Downplaying your intentions to avoid judgment is what you are now doing. You knew when you saw the speedometer spike you were doing wrong. Which excuse did you pick off the list?
- I normally obey the speed limit.
- Everyone else is going faster than I am.
- What is just this once going to hurt?
- I am in a hurry.
- My speedometer is broken any way.
Whichever it was, or whichever combination, you are justifying bad behavior to avoid the consequences of your actions. You were seeking a result, and the path you chose to get there met with judgment. Justification seeks to mitigate that judgment.
Just, as in fair
Done with the best intentions. One of the most common justifications comes when we explain to someone hurt by our choices they were made in the interest of fairness to the most number of people. The hurt is often caused by excluding one person or group of people.
Whether intentional or accidental, (emotional, physical, psychological) harm will come to someone based on many of our actions. In the case of accidental harm, apologies are the first reaction. When the harm is intentional, we justify it.
- There were only three prizes, and I had to award them to the first entrants.
- I could not invite everyone.
- In order to be accepted into the program, I had to tell our secret.
In each of the examples, the justification is based on limits set by an outside source. This is the simple shifting of blame onto a set of accepted parameters over which we do not have direct control.
By absolving ourselves of the rule-making, we absolve our actions by adhering to the rules. Rather than accepting our responsibility for the hurtful choices we make, we are justifying our choices by not making our actions personally intentional to the person we hurt. We do not want to be judged solely on the harm we cause.
Just, as in only
It is for your own good. Occasionally, we do things we know are going to hurt one person. We impose our safety, moral or ethical boundaries on others, especially our offspring, close friends and immediate families. By superimposing our will over theirs, we usurp the power they have in their own lives.
People whose rights to act independently have been taken away react strongly against the one who has taken those rights away. In order to mollify some of the emotion, we offer justification.
- If I had not taken away your car, you would have wrecked it.
- Your boss needed to know you had used that presentation for the last company.
- They would have found out eventually.
Each of these actions has an immediate impact. We think it will be short-lived and will be beneficial in the long run. Rather than making the choice a collaborative effort or allowing the other person to act independently, we substitute our judgment and justify it by claiming it was for the best.
We go to great lengths to keep others from judging us. By supplying our rationale for the decisions we make, the acts we commit and the words we say, we seek to avoid judgment.
Justification is different from an apology. Rarely are we penitent or contrite about the actions we justify. Instead, we count on others to look past their hurt feelings to see our why and deem our actions reasonable.
Some justification is warranted. When our actions have undesirable consequences, but offer benefits, they can be justified. The law provides examples of justification. Certain behaviors are not considered crimes even when the actions are justified.
Unfortunately, the bulk of justification is merely excuses for why we choose to do things without considering those who are affected by our choices. To avoid both the judgment and the justification, choose wisely and discuss your choices with those they will affect before you put your plan into action.
Have you ever justified your actions to someone? Was it well received? Have you ever admitted you had no justification?