The speaker in this context is asking to be excused or pardoned for a minor infraction, bumping into or brushing past others and endangering or even manifesting a beer spill.
While it is technically a question, it is typically offered more as a declarative statement: the bumper expects to be excused or pardoned. In fact, to not excuse or pardon someone who commits a minor infraction like this, especially after they've asked to be excused/pardoned would be considered rather rude.
Sometimes, the one that says "excuse me" or "pardon me" is the bumpee, the one who has been bumped. S/he is minding their own business drinking a beer, and someone bumps into them without saying anything and their beer spills. An irate bumpee might bump the behavior of the bumper by saying "excuse me?" or "pardon me?". In this context, the words are asked as a question, but are offered as a gentle rebuff to the perceived rudeness of the bumper. It is something along the lines of "don't you think you might say something to excuse/pardon yourself rather than just bump your way through?"
In this beer-spill sense, excusing and pardoning someone is synonymous. The request to be excused or pardoned is little more than a politesse. And the request from the bumpee for an "excuse me?" or "pardon me?" is little more than a reminder to the bumper of the need for this politesse.
BUT WHAT ABOUT BIG SPILLS?
What about the situation where the bump causes something more catastrophic than a beer spill? It might be an oil spill with economic, financial and ecological consequences. Or a blood spill which could be a literal physical injury, or maybe something more emotional as in matters of the heart.
The key distinction here is that the bumper is considered to have created a BIG spill that has affected the bumpee in a BIG way.
(With BIG spills, it is quite common to label the "bumper" the perpetrator or sinner, and the "bumpee" the victim. But these labels carry a lot of extra weight - so I'll stick with bumper and bumpee.)
The bumpee has to make a decision: do I excuse or pardon the bumper?
Unlike the situation in the bar, whether the bumper who has created a BIG spill asks to be excused or pardoned or forgiven is of rather less importance. The bumpee has to make a decision about whether to excuse, pardon or forgive - regardless of the bumper's words.
First, there seems to be a difference between what it means for us to excuse someone and to pardon someone for creating a BIG spill.
To excuse the bumper for causing a BIG spill is to understand their reasons for why they did what they did, and how this led to the spill. It is to be sympathetic. It is rather like the trivial situation, the person was just trying to get to the bar for a beer or busting for a pee. I get it, and I excuse the bumper for the spill that they caused.
For BIG spills, excusing someone is probably difficult to achieve because the bumpee is feeling seriously hurt by the BIG spill. Fortunately, excusing them may not even be necessary: I may struggle to excuse the spill, but I might nonetheless pardon you.
To pardon someone is to go beyond the reasons of the bumper and into their feelings, to go beyond sympathy and into empathy. To pardon someone is more immersive than excusing someone. It is to put yourself into their shoes, into their skin, into their headspace. To see perhaps, from their perspective, how I, the bumpee, may have even contributed in some degree to the spill that happened - at least from the perspective of the bumper.
However, there's an even greater step beyond excusing and pardoning someone, and that is forgiving someone.
Forgiving someone for a bump or a spill is less about understanding the other person although it builds on that. It is about having compassion for the other, and even more than that, it is having compassion for oneself.
Forgiveness is a gift that we offer to someone. Forgiveness is essentially, a form of love.
I think that people really struggle with forgiveness and love because we are so locked into the idea of social reciprocity: if I shout (buy) a round of beers for you and me, it is expected you'll offer to shout a round of beers next!
It took me a while to realize that love (and by extension, forgiveness) is not about reciprocity. Much of my adolescent love life was taken up realizing that the love I offered someone might not be returned. That felt painful, really painful. However, as I got older, I realized that I was focused on the pain of not receiving love rather than the pleasure of giving love. I can control the love I give, I cannot control the love I receive.
A related version of contingent love and forgiveness is when I hear people say that others have to earn their love, their forgiveness. However, I challenge this notion. Forgiveness and love are not earned: they are my unconditional gift to another. It is a beer I give away with no return shout required. The pleasure is in the giving - regardless of what happens beyond.
Excusing and pardoning an other person is a gift to someone, but they are mere bagatelles.
The BIG gifts I can offer to someone who causes a BIG spill are forgiveness and love. The greatest version of these gifts is when I give them unconditionally. I give forgiveness and love away because in the giving, I am being kind to another and being kind to myself. I feel warmed by the love that I feel for others.
Forgiveness, offered from the heart, unconditionally, is a form of love. Like all love, forgiveness is an extension of humanity: a much more human production than beer or oil. It is a gift to the self as much as or even more than a gift to the other.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
To err is human,
to forgive, divine.
-- Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1711)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
This post is the first product of my work as a pro bono sub-co-philo (sub-contracting philosopher) created in response to the following question posed by an interlocuter: "What is the difference between pardoning vs excusing someone?"
Got a question? Ask the sub-co-philo, I'll see what I can come up with!