I frequently give this example and it is potent.
You leave for a trip and your seven year old child reminds you that Friday is her big game. “Will you be back, Daddy?” She asks.
You promise her that no matter what happens, you will be there. You know full well your flight arrives late at night. Yet you promise her.
What just happened?
Three things. One, you made a false promise to someone who trusts you more than anything she knows. Two, you lied to yourself. Three, you felt nothing since the promise was not that important–and even if you did feel a tinge of guilt you are supremely confident you will “make it up to here.” I may add that a fourth thing that has happened is that you may actually feel good that you don’t have to think about it.
All three are devastating to a relationship and fatal to earning someone’s trust, even someone as innocent and immature as a seven year old.
You see, we make many promises that are worthless but may make us feel good momentarily. Like when you promise your wife you will take care of that little handyman job–and never give it a thought.
Why do we do it? There are many reasons.
- We like to be liked. So it is hard for us to say no, even when it is staring us in the face.
- We have the best of intentions of keeping promises we have made.
- It get us away from the hard choices we have to make to keep the promise. Like in the case where you promised to come back early on Friday. You have to reschedule your meetings, rebook the ticket for an earlier flight, etc. etc. Much easier to pacify a little child with a simple lie.
How does it impact your commitment? You see promises that are kept and kept consistently become commitments. When it becomes a part of your lifestyle and your behavior, your word becomes a bond.
So here is my advice.
1. Take all promises seriously.
2. Do not try to “pacify” people with little white lies.
3. Treat unkept promises as a character flaw. Only then will you take your promises seriously.
4. Be discerning in making commitments—saying no may hurt, but it will do far less damage than a promise that is not kept.
Pay special attention to making promises to little ones. They are not only very sensitive, they are more mature in receiving and interpreting signals from their loved ones than we give them credit for.