Rationalize, Justify, Explain, Take Your Pick

It’s funny how words can be charged with extra meaning, emotion, and weight. Consider the three commonly used words rationalize, justify, explain.

Basically, all three words mean the same thing, they are verbs for trying to prove a point.

Queen of Rationalizing

Rationalize, in my mind, just seems bad. Which is weird for me, since I feel like I am the queen of rationality. What could be better for someone who is rational than being engaged in the business of rationalizing? But that’s not really the case.

When I think of someone rationalizing, I imagine them twisting themselves pretzel-like until they can feel good about whatever it is they are expounding.

“I worked out for 15 minutes and definitely burned enough calories to eat that huge Boston cream with no guilt.”

If you have to achieve such contortions to feel ok about something, then maybe check your premises and be sure there’s not a disconnect somewhere.

And how about justify? My thoughts are that this is a step up from rationalizing. It’s still not great to be in a position where you must justify what you are doing. But somehow justifying seems more legit than rationalizing.

When you justify, you are marshaling a coherent reason to demonstrate why you took some action or have some belief. If you are put in a position where justification is necessary, you might have handled the situation better earlier on. For example: “Don’t be mad, Mom, our teacher is out sick for the rest of the week, so that’s why I’m playing video games and not doing my homework.” This is a justification that easily could have been made unnecessary by the following preemptive statement: “Hi, Mom, I’m home! I don’t have any homework until next week since my teacher will be out, so I’m going to play some video games for a while now.”

With a little bit of foresight, you can often prevent yourself from being placed in a position of justification.

And finally, we are left with explaining.

I’ve always found this the least negative of the three verbs. Of course, there are exceptions, like being “mansplained” or Ricky telling Lucy she’s got some ‘splaining to do in a menacing tone.

Explaining through teaching

A simple explanation is usually the best, and one can even think of teaching as explaining.

“I’m going to leave work early because I have a doctor’s appointment.” Short, sweet, to the point. Done and done.

Bottom line, do things that just need explaining, not justifying or rationalizing, and all will be fine.

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About the author

I am a third generation printer, and a second generation owner of Curry Printing. Ink (pms 185!) must run through my veins! As a "working owner," I am at Curry every day, working in and on my business. The old adage is true...if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life!

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