When we truly understand agency, we realize that when we make excuses we are denying our agency. We are saying that something or someone else controls us and our actions and that we aren’t in control, which is contrary to the doctrine of agency. When we make an excuse, we are saying that we don’t have a choice in the thing we are making an excuse for and thus we deny our power to choose.
For example, at a youth dance a young man asks a young woman to dance and she says, “I’d love to dance with you, but I can’t. I have to go talk to my friend about something.” She is essentially saying, “I don’t have a choice, I have to talk to my friend. I’d love to dance with you if I could, but I can’t.” By making an excuse, she denies her power to choose and her control over her behavior, which she is responsible for independent of any other person.
Here’s another example: A young man is asked by his seminary teacher if he read his scriptures. He says, “I couldn’t because I had so much homework and was too tired at the end of the night.” We hope his seminary teacher would correct the incorrect agency statement with something like “You mean, you chose not to study your scriptures because you chose to do your homework, eat dinner, and play basketball before studying your scriptures?”
When you get right down to it, most excuses are an attack on one of the four pillars of agency. Consider this quote from Elder Paul V. Johnson:
“Think of some of the excuses people give for their wrong actions:
‘I didn’t know it was wrong’—a claim they had no knowledge of good from evil.
‘I couldn’t help it’—claiming they had no personal power to choose.
‘There wasn’t anything else I could do’—purporting no choices from which to pick.
‘Don’t push your morals on me’—assuming there is no eternal law.”7
Here is a key principle: when we make excuses, we weaken ourselves. Making excuses hurts us because by attacking those pillars of agency we trick ourselves into thinking that we really aren’t free to choose, or that there is no real eternal law. We should avoid making excuses. Alma taught his son, “Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point ” (Alma 42:30; emphasis added). The moment we take responsibility for our actions is the moment we gain power over the course of our lives.
7. Paul V. Johnson, “Understanding and Living Gospel Doctrines,” CES Satellite Training Broadcast, August 2003; http://si.lds.org/library/talks/training-broadcast/understanding-and-living-gospel-doctrines?lang=eng.