“It’s Better To Ask For Forgiveness Than Permission” – Meaning & Origin

There is an old saying, “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission,” and some people live by its philosophy. However, it’s not the best way to live your life, and we’ll talk about the reasons why in this article. We’ll also show you where it came from.

What Does “It’s Better To Ask For Forgiveness Than Permission” Mean?

“It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” means that you should do something without worrying about getting permission first. If that thing turns out to upset certain people, it’s easier for you to ask for them to forgive your actions rather than getting permission in the first place.

What Does "It's Better To Ask For Forgiveness Than Permission" Mean?

While the idea is valid, the philosophy is incorrect. It’s not something that we encourage anyone to live by because you’re guaranteeing that the blame will be pinned on your if you’re not careful.

Generally, if you know you’re going to do something that might require permission, you should ask for it. It’s the best way around any following scenarios where forgiveness might be required of you. Of course, it’s entirely dependent on the person, but we’ll touch on that more later.

What Is The Origin Of “It’s Better To Ask For Forgiveness Than Permission”?

Before we go through anything else, let’s talk about the origin of the phrase. There are a few debates about the direct origin, but there seems to be one clear choice that shows us where the phrase comes from.

The phrase is attributed to Grace Murray Hopper, a famous computer scientist. She was a pioneer in her practice and was the first person to coin the computer term “bug.” She used the phrase in 1984 when talking about her work on computer programs.

Hopper was a formidable computer scientist, and many people respected her for what she did. However, she also had a lot of resistance in her field, and that’s most of the reason why she coined the phrase to ask for forgiveness than permission.

She made sure to work on tasks that she knew would benefit the advancement of computer technology. Rather than waiting on her superiors to tell her otherwise, she simply worked with what she knew would work and would ask for forgiveness if they disagreed later.

Is It True That It Is Better To Ask For Forgiveness Than Permission?

Now that we’ve covered the origin, it’s time to circle back to the meaning. Specifically, we need to know whether it’s a wise way to live your life.

It is not true to use this phrase, and it’s a really selfish way to live your life. If you constantly do things without getting permission, people are going to stop trusting you to do anything right, and they’ll end up pushing all the accountability on you.

While it might be something that works once or twice, when you start to do it again and again, people are going to tire of your behavior. Because of this, you’re going to have a hard time finding anybody that will accept your forgiveness.

If you don’t take the phrase too seriously, then it doesn’t matter as much. Some people use it while also intending to ask for permission when they understand what is at stake if they don’t. However, if you’re serious about following the meaning, you might be in trouble.

An Example Of Why It’s Bad

Typically, people expect permission to be asked. Let’s look at an example:

  • You’re hungry, and you go to a restaurant with a friend, but you have no intention of paying.
  • You didn’t take your wallet, and you don’t tell them until the bill comes out.
  • By that point, it’s too late to ask for their permission (i.e., to ask whether they’re okay paying for the meal).
  • They pay for their meal and your own, and you head home.
  • You expect them to forgive you for your shortcoming, but it’s entirely up to your friend whether they’re ready to do that.

As you can see, the person in this situation is selfish. They deliberately left their wallet at home while knowing full well that they were going to need money to pay for their food.

While it might be possible (and highly likely) that their friend will forgive them and just say that they’ll owe them some money or a meal next time, that isn’t the point. The point is that you should be a good friend at all points, meaning you should treat each other as equals.

If you repeatedly come into situations like this, where you’re making your friend do something for you, it is a selfish way to live your life. Don’t be reckless with decisions like this, as it’s a very quick way to lose friends very quickly.

The easiest way to remedy all of these problems is by simply asking for permission.

Instead of worrying about the phrase and its meaning, you can simply change it to “it’s best to ask for permission.”

In Which Situations Might It Be Better To Ask For Forgiveness Than Permission?

While it is almost never okay to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, there is maybe one situation where it might be better than doing it the other way around.

If you’re planning a surprise party or gift for somebody, and you’re not sure how well they’ll receive it (especially if you did some things they may not approve of), it might be better to ask for forgiveness than permission. This is especially true if they’re happy with the surprise.

If the friend is happy with the surprise, then you can tell them about all the things you did to set it up. If there was something that they didn’t agree with, they’re sure to forgive you because you’ve created such a nice surprise for them.

However, if they aren’t best pleased about the surprise, then it might have been better to ask for permission. That’s why it’s such a razor-thin line when you’re using this saying, because you never know how somebody will react if you don’t ask permission first.