What is the Weight of your Word?

19 12 2008

A promise, your word, or just plain speech. What is the difference among these? Is one stronger than another? If you make a promise are you more likely to keep it than if you gave your word or even just said that you would do something? There was a man in England who was repaid, this Sunday, 200 pounds for lending an Australian traveler 5 pounds in 1969, 39 years after.  In the BBC News article reporting this story, Mr. Webb, the man who was repaid the debt, commented about reading the card that accompanied the repayment,

“I was quite emotional when I read it. In this day and age promises are made and promises are broken and you lose your faith in human nature.”

It was quite a delay but the man kept his word. It was such a simple task, a repayment of 5 pounds, yet when reading the story,  it gave me a sense that it was something extraordinary. Well, rare things often naturally become extraordinary. Maybe promise-keeping has become so rare that we grasp onto the few glimpses that we get to not lose the light of hope. But I wonder if it has anything to do with our perception of the gravity of our words. Increasingly it seems that we take anything we say with little seriousness, especially if they are not encapsulated with the words, “I promise.” Maybe it’s our consummeristic mindset subconsciously going to work, thinking everything has to be contractual in order for us to be obligated to fulfill. Or possibly it is our lawyer-esque mindset, trying to leave an escape route to not be liable for the words we speak.  All we have to claim is, “But I didn’t promise.”

I do not think that it is a common good to strictly promote the keeping of the word, regardless of whether you signed it off with an, “I promise.” People say dumb, regrettable things all the time and if they pulled through on those just for the sake of keeping their word, this world would fall into utter chaos. Instead, quite possibly, we can consider the weight of our words. I think we think too lightly of it. Anyone who takes to heart the old adage, “Sticks and stone may break my bones but words will never hurt me” not only takes words lightly but uses the mantra because they are already hurting. Words to them have already become heavy, weighty. They only desire it to be light. It is a defense mechanisms, and as all defense mechanisms are, it is me-centered. At the center of our consummeristic, lawyer-esque, and defensive mindset lies our consideration of words only for and to ourselves. To see the weight of words isn’t to just tell yourself that whatever you say is important, that would again be regressing to a strict keeping of the word, but it is to begin with the other, the recipient, the listener. What weight will my words bear on the other person, how important is it to them, how serious are these words to them? To begin as such leaves no room for thinking in terms of contracts, in liabilities, in defense mechanisms, but much room for considering the effect (good or bad) on the person standing before you. It will even be little about keeping our integrity, though that is a very good thing, but more about caring to fulfill what matters to another because, as ironic as it is, it is  in keeping our word for the sake of others that builds true integrity, integrity that is quite unnoticeable by the one who holds it but radiantly visiable to those who surround him (or her).

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One response

19 12 2008
charles

wow good post

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