The Civilized Minute

a minute of manners and musings

Excuses, Excuses

Have you noticed that everybody has an excuse for everything?  Have you heard the quote “Don’t make excuses – make good.”?  Elbert Hubbard spoke these words. 

Hubbard, who published a magazine called The Philistine in the late 1800s, was controversial, quite contemporary in his thinking, witty, insightful and inspired.  He was inspired by what he saw and what he lived.  We can say this now, nearly a century after his death, because we have the benefit of seeing his life and conquests as a whole, as a compiled story, not just a snippet headlined on CNN.  It’s this perspective that enables us to know what actually defined him as a father, a publisher, an essayist, and a husband. 

On February 22, 1899, at his home and after a conversation with his son over dinner, Hubbard wrote a 1500-word article about the struggle and strife of a particular soldier which he published in his magazine.  This moment of inspiration proved to define Elbert Hubbard in the literary world.  This passage, which “leapt hot from my heart” as Hubbard put it, was praised, re-printed and translated to many different languages.  By any account, this article did not have the benefit of deliberation and planning.  Hubbard had a conversation, he felt moved, so he wrote. 

Don’t make excuses – make good, Hubbard said.  My research says Hubbard had had a particularly trying day when he wrote this excerpt.  NOW, we’re talkin’.  Stress?  That’s an excuse.  Tired?  There’s another one. Overwhelmed?  Yep.  Just don’t know what to say or do?  Uh-huh.

But, are you really too tired to say hello to your doorman?  Are you really too overwhelmed to take the gum out of your mouth before you take the stage?  Are you seriously too stressed to remember a lunch date you made with a coworker? Perhaps you aren’t too stressed or too tired or too overwhelmed.  Perhaps you are just unorganized.  Or selfish. Or closed-minded.  Ya might wanna take a look at yourself and make sure you aren’t making excuses rather than making good.  You are defining your life and leaving your mark at every turn and with every encounter.  Your natural reaction should be that of good. Don’t miss your chance for good! 

Hubbard himself was moved to action by another’s impulsive act.  After the Titanic’s sinking, Hubbard wrote a moving commentary on the deaths of Ida and Isidor Straus, co-owners of Macy’s.  As the ship was going down, Ida Straus refused her passage on a lifeboat in favor of staying with her husband. In awe of their “good”, Hubbard wrote,

“Mr. and Mrs. Straus, I envy you that legacy of love and loyalty left to your children and grandchildren. The calm courage that was yours all your long and useful career was your possession in death. You knew how to do three great things—you knew how to live, how to love and how to die.”

In an interesting twist, Elbert Hubbard and his wife perished on the Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German submarine just over 3 years later.  Shortly after, one survivor wrote a letter to the Hubbard’s son with this account:

“I can not say specifically where your father and Mrs. Hubbard were when the torpedoes hit, but I can tell you just what happened after that. They emerged from their room, which was on the port side of the vessel, and came on to the boat-deck. Neither appeared perturbed in the least. Your father and Mrs. Hubbard linked arms—the fashion in which they always walked the deck—and stood apparently wondering what to do…As I moved to the other side of the ship, in preparation for a jump when the right moment came, I called to him, ‘What are you going to do?’ and he just shook his head, while Mrs. Hubbard smiled and said, ‘There does not seem to be anything to do.’  The expression seemed to produce action on the part of your father, for then he did one of the most dramatic things I ever saw done. He simply turned with Mrs. Hubbard and entered a room on the top deck, the door of which was open, and closed it behind him.”

Clearly inspired by the Straus’ quick decision on the Titanic, the Hubbards acted similarly.  They saw, they learned and they acted. 

Would anyone be moved and inspired to eloquence or action after a conversation or encounter with you?  What moment of inspiration will prove to ultimately define you?  Would we need to wait until your death to see the mark you may leave?  What about lessons learned during your life?  Do you heed lessons learned or simply mark something up as a frustration and move on?

The chance to do good happens every day. Don’t miss it because you don’t know what to do. 



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