When I was growing up I was taught your word is your bond. A saying passed down to each generation. It made clear that no matter what, you would always follow through on any claims made. If it was promised “you could take it to the bank.” That’s where the phrase “you can bank on it” came from. That premise was so ingrained, so integral to society at that time a hand shake was all that was needed to seal a deal.
My father lived in a world where your word mattered. A written contract may have followed but the commitment was unequivocal because your reputation and ability to function in business was irrevocably harmed if it wasn’t honored. My father was an attorney from Minnesota. When he moved to Arizona he couldn’t practice until after he passed the state bar exam. As he worked towards that goal, he joined my grandfather’s real estate firm. To his surprise, he loved the field and his legal background added a unique advantage. As kids we were all expected to help out during summer vacations. Heaven knows he didn’t need a bunch of children running around the office. But letting us see how he dealt with people, and supported his family was important. Those months were a gift. Allowing me time with my father and indelibly stamping on my psyche how to interact with others.
I watched as he treated everyone with dignity and respect. When my father said he’d do something, he did, period. No excuses, justifications or endless procrastination. And for those who didn’t? I saw how they were shunned or diminished by those who couldn’t trust them. Who wants a co-worker who isn’t reliable? One summer my father was working with a man from Texas looking to build housing developments in Arizona. It had taken months of preparation and due diligence to realize his representative had little knowledge or willingness to learn Arizona codes and zoning laws. When confronted he lied and told his boss my father was the reason it was failing. One phone call later the employee was fired and the deal finalized. All it took was “sizing up” the people involved and learning their character. My fathers knowledge, honesty and experience were readily apparent. He was clear and concise in what could and could not be achieved. Attributes the out of state investor desperately needed to ensure his project’s success. I innocently believed that was the way the world worked. By the time I became an adult, times had changed. Verbal agreements had become a quaint thing of the past- it was too easy to claim “there wasn’t a meeting of the minds.” Ones word and honor no longer reigned, legal fees and long tedious contacts became king. It may sound archaic or naive today.
I was taught what a person promises, whether that’s to make a date and actually show up, on time, or follow through on an action as simple as picking up the laundry, to life commitments and being faithful, were set in stone. When did we decide a solid foundation is no longer essential for all relationships? When we follow through on what we say we’ll do we show respect and consideration. We honor that the other person’s time and resources are as valuable as our own. We used to be able to believe in the others intent to honor their commitments and enter into “a gentleman’s agreement” – an informal, unwritten agreement backed only by the integrity of each parties willingness to actually abide by the agreed terms. Lying, deceiving or manipulating was not only unacceptable but the kiss of death. If you couldn’t trust someone, you couldn’t possibly have a meaningful relationship. Word would spread rapidly and all future interactions tainted. Your reputation and character- the mental and moral qualities distinctive to every individual- were what defined you. But not today.
When did it become ok to schedule an appointment and then not show up? When did it become ok to make promises you have no intention of keeping? When did it become ok to claim friendship and then disparage, use or harm that person? When did it become ok to embellish or make up whatever you want and ignore the truth? When did it become ok to attack people on the internet because they don’t agree with you? When did it become ok to spew racist bigotry? When did it become ok to openly berate others for the way they look? When did it become ok to treat people with disrespect and still demand fealty? How can we survive in a world where we can’t depend on, trust or believe in anyone?
Here’s what I was taught-don’t commit to something you might not be able to follow through on. If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing. Expect consequences to showing up late or not at all and be humble, apologetic and remorseful when you are. Follow the golden rule- treat others as you’d treat yourself. Everyone deserves a second chance but as the saying goes: Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. In other words when you make a promise mean it and follow through on it. You might be surprised how much that simple concept can change your life. What kind of person do you want as your mate, boss, co-worker, friend…? Someone who you can count on, turn to, depend on? Or someone who only looks out for themselves, says whatever you want to hear, never follows through, always leaves you with the mess, can’t be trusted? We can’t control others. But we can control what we say, do and tolerate from others.