“Promises are like crying babies in a theater, they should be carried out at once.”
—Norman Vincent Peale.
We’ve all heard of organisations like Toastmasters International, Rotary International etc. I propose one more: Promise Keepers International. The only problem is there would probably be very few valid members. We all tend to find it difficult to keep our promises.
The Two of Us – Nuggets of Sense and Laughter to Enjoy Together (Janvrin & Selleck) desk calendar my wife and I have received as a gift recently says:
“Keep your promises, or don’t make them.”
It seems simple enough. Should be a piece of cake, really. Why is it then that we fail to deliver on our promises so routinely and regularly?
Promise Keepers International should be mostly about less. The less we say, particularly out of guilt, the less we’ll indict ourselves shovelling later negative consequences on our hindsight-sickened selves. It should also be about less pressure. The moment our promise is made is the moment we feel the pressure to keep it—yet, that’s just the beginning. The regrets continue from that first moment, even well before we deliver on the promise... if we do that is. Finally, there’d be less “sorry.” How often do we issue empty apologies?
Jesus said about promises: ‘Don’t make them.’
“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
—Matthew 5:37 (NIV).
This simply means that we so often shoot our mouths off in the flash of a moment, without any thought (amusing?) of the later consequences we’re pinning to ourselves, and even others. (“Amuse” means literally, without thought. The consequences are, however, far from amusing!)
Worse still, is promising for others, or promising to get others to do things. If we cannot hope to control ourselves with regard to our promises, how would we hope to control others? There’s a lesson there for leaders, parents or anyone supposedly ‘in control.’
Promises have the power to commend or destroy. Think of a burgeoning relationship. Imagine a promise kept. It looks like we can trust this person. They have credibility with us by virtue of that simple single promise kept. By keeping the promise they proved they cared for us enough to not forget and they also proved they’re worthy of our future trust.
This is a powerful currency in anyone’s language. But we’re well advised to spend cautiously. It would be even better when tempted to commit to anything—for any commitment (even loose ones) can be construed as a promise—to back up and have the courage to say to the person, ‘Let me think about this; I’ll get back to you.’ When reason kicks in, and that takes only a moment, the promise that might’ve been made is forever rescinded or entirely re-engineered. It is modified or never made.
Wisdom would have to be an important tenet in the selection process for those joining Promise Keepers International. Or perhaps, more to the point, it might be a self-help group for people who have difficulty keeping their promises and whom wish to be wiser. In this case, we could all join.
Whatever, our relationships—and hence our lives—could be made far more effective and more enjoyable, and simpler, if we made less promises and simply kept them.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.