Am I the only one who gets annoyed when watching a movie or television show and a character says something along the lines of: “I promise, we’ll bring him back alive.” If it were me, the last thing I’d want to hear from the police is a promise to do something that is truly out of their control.
I get it, words matter to me more than to most people. The majority of people probably aren’t ready to throw things at the television and yell: “You can’t promise that! Don’t say that!” I’m serious, I get truly incensed. It’s probably because setting expectations and then meeting them or exceeding them is important to me. I want that for myself and I provide it for others. I believe in under promising and over delivering in every area of my life. It’s nice to be a source of delight as opposed to disappointment.
My teens and friends know that if I say, “I promise,” that they can take that to the bank and cash it like a cheque, because whatever I promise, will happen. I used to not even tell my kids we were going to the theatre to see the latest movie release until I had the tickets in my hand. Why? It could be sold out, there could be a traffic accident on the way, really any number of things could make us late or make it impossible to go, so I preferred to make sure that my word meant something to my kids. It actually became a household saying, and my partner knew to never tell them anything unless they had “tickets in hand” literally or figuratively.
The side benefit of this is that my teens also believe in the power of promises and the importance of keeping them.
Aside from breaking a wedding vow, which would have broken us if we’d kept it, the only promises I’ve broken are to myself (and I’m working on remembering that promises to myself are even more important to keep).
I look for two primary characteristics in people: honesty, and the consistent ability to do what they say they will. This goes for friends, employees, employers, and romantic partners. I expect words to match actions. I feel like I’m in the minority here, but I’m OK with having a small circle of people whom I can trust and rely upon instead of filling my time with people whose words are not their bond and lies abound.
I’m not suggesting people stop making promises, quite the contrary, I’m saying that people should make promises, but only ones that they don’t intend on breaking. Sometimes we can’t keep our promises, and if that’s the case, we need to be accountable as soon as possible.
Promising something to someone because you think it will make them feel better will only sting worse if you can’t make good on your promise. Then they have to deal with the disappointment of the broken promise and broken trust.
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying about the road to Hell? I think that should be modified to: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and broken promises.” If you want to be in my circle, don’t break your promises or my trust. We’re already contending with a political landscape of empty promises and fake news. It’s time to make words matter again.