“It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission”. A phrase I’ve heard quite a few times, but it never really sat well with me. I did some thinking, and I’ve come to the opinion that it’s a stupid saying.
I did a quick google search on the term and learned that it was coined by Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, a Naval officer. She was a pioneer in the development and advancement of computer programming. She is the one who coined the term ‘bug’ when describing a problem in a computer when she described fixing one by removing a 2 inch moth from a naval computer in 1947. She is also credited with coining the titular phrase in 1986.
So, what does the phrase mean? It is widely used as a justification for breaking the rules, doing something wrong, and just being lazy. The key word is ‘easier’. “It’s easier to ask forgiveness…” Even the phrase itself does not use the word ‘better’, but ‘easier’. When has the easiest path been the best path?
Which is easier: filing your taxes, or just ignoring them? (Beg forgiveness from the IRS, let me know how that goes)
Which is easier: Going to the grocery store and preparing a meal from scratch, or just picking up a bag of grease from McDonalds?
Which is easier: asking for forgiveness, or permission?
If you make a lot of life decisions by picking the easier option, you’re going to have a bad time.
So, is this phrase completely trash from the start? Not quite.
As I looked into Rear Admiral Hopper, I saw an extended version of the saying. “if it is a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is much easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission.” That first sentence adds some depth. It reveals that Hopper was not advocating for a person to just do what they want and deal with the consequences later, but to do what is right. Also, for context, she spent her life in service to the US Navy. Now I’ve never been in the military, so I have zero first-hand experience, but I’ve never heard someone who has that experience describe it as anything but a mess of red tape and politics. Why does that matter? Because if she had spent 43 years (1943 to 1986, according to Wikipedia) dealing with red tape and political BS, her views on freedom to make decisions might be a little different than an ordinary person’s. She was also quoted as saying “Humans are allergic to change. […] I try to fight that.”
So, the phrase was likely meant as an encouragement to just keep pushing through red tape and resistance to change, and not as a justification for bad decisions. Like the alternate, beneficial version of “The ends justify the means.”
But that’s not how people use it these days. I always see it being used as a justification for bad decisions. For breaking rules that don’t need to be broken. For doing things a person knows they shouldn’t do, but they do it any way because ‘it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, bro.”
Never plan on asking for forgiveness. To plan it out beforehand means you know something is wrong and you will hurt someone. Seriously. If you decide on a course of action with the plan that you will just apologize for it later because you knew it was wrong from the start, you are a terrible person.
What do you think? Am I totally off-base here? Are there other other common turns of phrase that are stupid that deserve an over-analyzing? Let me know down below.