January 23, 2020
Dear St. George Families,
Some time ago I was talking to a high school principal and he was telling me about his
school's tardy policy. If you were late, you had to come to his office and sign in, write
why you were late next to your name and explain it to him if he was in his office. The
excuses were pretty entertaining. Apparently, they don't make very good alarm clocks in
this country, because "my alarm clock didn't work" was a favorite excuse. "Traffic," of
course, was up there, and if I didn't know differently, the cars our students drove must
have been real clunkers because "my car wouldn't start" was frequently cited. Older
brothers often blamed their sisters: "Mr. Weber, my sister takes forever to get ready for
school; I have no idea what she's doing in the bathroom for so long." And there's not
much loyalty to mom either: "My mother didn't wake me up in time," or even, "I'd have
been here on time if Mom drove faster." I once had a kid swear he got three flat tires on
his way to school, each at different points along the way.
You'll notice a common theme in all of these excuses: "It's not my fault." It's pretty rare
for someone to come in late and say, "I just got started too late today," or " I woke up too
late," or "I'd knew I'd be late, but I was hungry and stopped off for some fast food on my
way in to school."
It's not just true of our younger generation - it's true for adults as well. Take for
example, a seemingly straightforward statement: "I didn't have time to do it." If we
were being more honest with ourselves, what we should REALLY say is "It wasn't a
priority." Proof of that is that if someone offered us ten thousand dollars to get whatever
it was done, we'd drop everything else and do it. But they didn't, and so we judged other
things in our lives as more important that getting this one thing done.
It's easy, too, to play the victim by passing blame up the ladder in an organizational
structure. A coach, or a teacher, or a lieutenant in the military, or a person in a middle
management position might be apt to blame their bosses, or the anonymous
"administration" or the "man upstairs" for their lack of success at whatever his or her
The problem is whenever we pass blame to someone else or something else, we
surrender a little piece of ourselves to them, giving up our own authority and power to
fix it ourselves, making us weaker. We tell our bosses we are unable to tackle our own
problems and in effect, ask them to fix our problems for us.
At different times during the school year I talk to students and parents about poor
performance in the classroom, outlining what has to happen this semester, attending
tutorials, doing homework, etc. At the beginning of those meetings, I usually ask the
student "What happened?" Again, it's very tempting for the student to blame the school,
the subject matter ("it's too hard"), the teacher, or someone else. But in one of those meetings, the young man looked me right in the eye and said "Mr. Nelson, I just didn't work very hard. I didn't turn stuff in. It wasn't the teacher, or the school, and it wasn't
that the work was too hard. It was me. " I was very impressed by this student, and my
guess is, he's going to be OK.
God didn't make us perfect - we're going to screw up from time to time. That's a given.
But what's not a given - what distinguishes the mature person from the immature -- is
how we handle our screw-ups. When we do something wrong or poorly, let's man up
and say "I am sorry; I made a mistake." That's our best chance for not making the same
mistake again. And the truth is, people will respect us more for the fact we're owning our
own problems and not expecting them to solve them for us.
May we all have the courage to claim what is ours!