What does it mean to keep your word? When someone makes a promise to themselves, to a loved one, to a professional acquaintance and follows through consistently and reliably, they are communicating a message about who they are and what is important to them. What is the alternative? Not keeping one’s word because of convenience or short term gain also communicates something about who they are and what is important. There are times when we make a promise because of peer pressure or because we are not comfortable with saying no. Some people make a promise or agree to do something because doing so makes them “look good” in the immediate situation. When it comes time to deliver, they don’t follow through (especially when no one is looking). They “give their word” because they will look good by doing so.
What happens when we make a promise because we are pressured into it? When we don’t want to do something but are pushed into acquiescence, the outcome is resentment. There are times we are resentful that we gave and promised to do something that we did not want to do in the first place. That resentment can then infect how we communicate with the person who pushed for the promise. We start to look at them negatively, we create scenarios about their nefarious motivations and how they took advantage. This begs the question – why give your word to do something when you did not want to do it in the first place?
What is the real cost of looking good at the expense of keeping your word and being resentful or not keeping your word and lacking integrity? The outcome is a life full of resentment and regret? Realizing that living to please others at the cost of your own peace of mind Is not worth the cost of “looking good” in the moment or worth avoiding the short term discomfort of saying “no”, no matter how hard the other person pushes.
The flip side is of course that we do not want to admit that we would prefer to look good but carry resentment about the choices we have made. That’s actually an easy way to remain stuck – please others, and resent them for having done so. It’s actually easier to go about life making choices that are consistent with what we want, regardless of whether or not other people are happy with those choices. The choices are not black and white – we’re always trading off what we want versus what others want from us. Living on one side or the other of this conundrum would mean we are shallow and self-centered or are mindless people pleasers. There is always a way to balance sacrificing for others and keeping our word but doing so without living a life full of resentment.
The answer to this is simple: honesty. It seems at some point in our lives we learned that being honest made us look bad or hurt someone else’s feelings. Regardless of how someone may interpret your perspective, (what is true to you) what is most important is self-honesty. People will appreciate honesty more than the façade of “looking good”. If you do not want to do something, a simple “no”, regardless of why, will be easier on both parties. You won’t have the resentment and the other person will not feel the resentment (even if they don’t get what they want short term) Honesty is healthier than if you grudgingly give your word to do something you do not want to do. When you cave and give your word you feel obligated to keep it even if it causes ill will. Breaking your word causes more ill will; which in the long run has a much greater impact than one honest conversation will have on the relationship. Breaking one’s word is a more painful “no” than saying so up front. Honesty does not have to hurt someone else. Being truthful with someone does not mean you are insulting them. Saying “no” up front and being open and honest about your reasons is respectful of the other person and of yourself.
Keeping your word regardless of whether or not you “look good” will actually have the unintentional effect of makinge you look good. When we try to look good we usually end up failing at it. If we are honest about something with ourselves and with others, keeping one’s word is easier and makes one happier. You create a life of possibility when you stop trying to please others, stop trying to look good and learn that honesty and integrity go hand in hand. Stick to your word even if you have to be honest and say something someone does not want to hear. Just be honest and kind when you do it. Sacrificing looking good for honesty has never been a bad choice.