Is a Promise always a Promise?

I was scurrying around this afternoon making strawberry ice cream that I’d promised our four-year old. My day had several unexpected turns. Friends came for breakfast and morning turned into afternoon. That wasn’t a problem by itself. It did however create some inner turmoil about how to have time to write and make ice cream.  You know, the kind of dilemma we face every day.

Which is why I’m asking the question, “Is a promise always a promise?” Let me digress a minute from my strawberry ice cream making. When I say to a friend, “I’ll call you for lunch soon” is that a promise? If it is do I know when I make it that our lunch probably won’t happen? Is it a promise, when I say to my son, I’ll make strawberry ice cream this afternoon and things change? Can I just give him a good story about why it won’t work out today and believe he will understand?

This simple question, “when is a promise a promise?” seems to be at the root of a great deal of suffering in our lives. If I treat every promise as a promise (here’s where it gets tricky), then am I out of integrity when I don’t do all I can to fulfill the promises I make? Now you may say that “I’ll call you for lunch soon” isn’t really a promise. Then why speak like it’s one?

Whenever I speak in a way that sounds  to the other person like I’m making a promise, I probably am. It’s important to be aware of everything I say. Did you ever notice how much you say that you don’t realize you’ve said? I suspect, if I had a video camera running during my day, I would see many promises I make that I’m unaware of. There will also be some that I don’t want to acknowledge. I suspect some of you have similar behavior.

Which gets me back to strawberry ice cream. I have the strawberry syrup chilling in the refrigerator as I write. The promise to my son, Gabriel, is one that I know I made and I don’t want to teach him that my promises to him aren’t important. I notice when I believe I don’t have enough time to do everything, I ask my family to accommodate my need to take care of promises to others first, sending them the message they aren’t as important. This certainly doesn’t make a pleasant self-reflection.

The answer to my question then is a promise is always a promise. To be in integrity calls me to be aware of the promises I’m making. It means that when I make new promises, I consider the implications of these promises on my existing promises. If there is a conflict, I will move to resolve it to the satisfaction of all.

This all requires daily diligence and a commitment to not let anything slide. I am sure that the freedom and peace of living in integrity is worth it.

Author: Thomas White

Over the past thirty-five years, Thomas White has created and led private and public organizations that initiated breakthroughs in areas as diverse as computer software, publishing, printing, market research, leadership development and organizational change. The common ingredients in his success are simple. He looked beyond the limitations that others believed and found real solutions to needs that business leaders have. He attracted the best talent to translate these innovative solutions into practical products and services that were of high value to customers. He created cultures where people love what they do, work at their best and produce extraordinary results. In addition to his role as a business leader, Thomas has been a pioneer and inventor of technologies in the computer-networking field. He is a patent holder for innovations in business process and workflow technology. As part of his passion for educating others about the interface of human and computer systems, he was the co-author of “New Tools for New Times, The Workflow Paradigm”. He has also written articles for numerous publications. In 2001, he turned his attention from leading companies to supporting leadership teams in creating organizations of excellence. After many years of being a part of the machine of change, Thomas recognized that business is the most powerful force in the world. It has a major impact on public policy and governments everywhere. It is a key influence on how we use our resources and sets an example of the values that shape communities from local to global. He formed the consulting firm of Profoundly Simple to be a guide for exemplary leaders - leaders who wisely uses the power they are entrusted with to serve their constituencies first and themselves second; leaders who know that it is good business to treat people with respect, honor the environment and act with impeccable integrity – leaders who inspire greatness in those around them and by doing so create great organizations that are notable examples of success. Feeling the itch to get back into the game again, Thomas joined with two long time friends, to start the C-Suite Network. This network of business leaders offers an online network, events, services, and insights to its 500,000 member community. In addition, the C-Suite Network produces and distributes television and radio content to an audience of over 5M per month

1 thought on “Is a Promise always a Promise?”

  1. Yes, a promise is a promise….and you are calling me to be awake to when I make a promise to avoid conflict, or look good, or be a pleaser………..a good wake up call for me!

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