Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Giving someone your word

Always do what you say you are going to do. It is the glue and fiber that binds successful relationships. - Jeffrey Timmons

This is something that I’ve lived by for a good part of my life. It’s one of the major reasons that I make very few promises to people I care about, because I care immensely about honoring the few promises I do make. I rarely say to those I love—‘I promise you this or that……..’ without delivering on it. I won’t promise anything if I know I cannot deliver from the get-go (barring of course sickness or natural disasters that might prevent me from doing so). The few times in my life when I’ve had to break a promise to someone has left me feeling upset, disloyal and generally bad. It doesn’t take much to make me feel like a schmuck, especially where relationships and hearts are concerned.

Our word is all we have. When we say to someone, ‘I give you my word’, it implies a promise. Promises are not relative statements. I don’t care very much about what the world thinks in that regard. The world has become a supremely relative place to live in. What is relevant today may not be relevant next week, let alone next year. I bring this up today because so much of life, including work life, has become so relative. How many times at work have I been told that ‘the past is no longer relevant’, or ‘that was THE PAST’, as though the past has no bearing whatsoever on the present environment or discussion. But it most certainly does, it’s just that the current constellation of leaders chooses to ignore that fact. Bitter workplace rivalries from twenty years ago help to shape the current ‘stellar’ constellations and political atmospheres in many workplaces, so of course the past is relevant for the present. It’s idiocy to think otherwise.

How far back must we go before a certain period of time can be considered the past? Whose definition of the past is relevant? In my workplace, the past can be two years ago or even one year ago. Imagine living in a marriage/relationship that was governed by the same principles; that what was said to a spouse or loved one two years ago is no longer relevant in the present, it no longer matters. If we gave our loved ones our word in the past that such and such will occur, we are bound by our word to honor that promise. I don’t have a problem with the promise evolving or taking on new aspects, but the promise itself is to be honored. That for me is the essence of a caring and respectful relationship--a successful relationship--be it marriage or friendship.

The problem with the idea that everything is relative and that you can go back on your word is that loyalty, commitment and stability become less important over time. The image that comes to mind is that of a boat in roiling waters, always having to deal with instability and uncertainty. If we cannot trust the people in our personal lives to honor their promises, then we can most certainly not trust the people in our work lives to do so. If you never get to peaceful waters on those fronts, if you can never relax in a relationship, if you can never achieve a level of trust, be it personal or work-related, you are the boat that is continually buffeted by the waves. The waves will upset the boat and down it after a while, or the engine will give out. That is the result of an ‘everything is relative’ way of thinking. 

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