PROMISES, PROMISES: Don’t Make Them If You Can’t Keep Them


By Zile Singh


A promise is a statement which you make to a person in which you say that you will certainly do something.  The word Promise can be used as a verb and also a noun.  He promised (verb) faithfully to call me every week and one should try faithfully to keep one’s promise (noun).  A promise can be in a spoken or unspoken form.  Promises can be made to friends, family and in some cases even to foes (as an act of revenge).  “Words said should never be taken back” the same applies to promise.


Each promise kept counts and increases the faith people have in you.  If a promise made is from the heart and it is something you believe you can do then there is hardly a chance that you can break it.  Promises are never meant to be broken.  Though, often promises are broken.


The most important person to keep your promise is to yourself.  There is no hard and fast rule as to whether breaking a promise is good or bad. The broken promises can lead people to get hurt, disappointed and sometimes can even break the intimate relationships.  It depends on the kind of promise, the situation, and to whom the promise is made.  In some exceptional circumstances, it is better to break the promise.  Broken promises can be amended.  As it is said, “Better late than never.”  When you go for a second time make sure that you put in your best efforts and make sure that the past mistake, which failed you to keep the promise, are not repeated.  Before making a promise to anybody else or  even to yourself, consider all the pros and cons.  It should not be made in haste or  in emotional circumstances.  Always remember that “Promises made in storms are forgotten in calms.”


In Chapter eighteen of The Prince, Machiavelli tells the readers how to be successful and when not to keep your promise.  It is seen throughout history that people of power constantly recant on their promises.  This philosophy is practised often by  our most prominent, modern-day political figures.  We can see that  prominent political leaders  world-wide have failed who could not keep their promises to the public.  Most of these leaders made promises just in a vacuum without knowing the ups and downs of the ground realities.  Money and corruption are ruining the land, crooked politicians betray the working man, pocketing the profits and treating the common man like sheep.  People are tired of hearing promises that we know the politicians  will never keep.  In this chapter, Machiavelli has two major premises; the nature of man and the nature of fighting.  After explaining the natures of both man and fighting, Machiavelli makes the argument that it is better to be a fox (successful) and gives a basic outline on how to be a fox. He also enumerates the benefits of not keeping the promise.  Here, it will be worthwhile to qualify a Fox: A Fox is a Wolf who sends flowers.  A Fox changes his fur but not his habits.  The Fox condemns the trap (opposition), not himself.


A Promise is a Promise.   Trust is built through a series of dealings with others.  If promises are broken or the people are taken for granted, the bonds of trust are breached.  It takes time to rebuild your name and reputation.  A promise is an obligation.  It must be kept.  “An ox is taken by the horns and a man by his word.”  And also “A long tongue is a sign of a short hand”- means that those who are most eager to make promises are the least likely to keep them.  When people cannot fulfill their promises, they try to tell lies.  Once you tell a lie, you will be treated as a suspect.  Friedrich Nietzsche said, “I am not upset that you lied to me.  I am upset that from now on I cannot believe you.”  There are contradictory messages about promise.  Gandhi said, “Never make a promise in haste.  Having once made it, fulfill it at the cost of your life.”  Tagore, on the other hand said, “ No one can be made a prisoner with a chain of clay.  Fling away your promise if it is found to be wrong.”


In Islam, there are three signs of a hypocrite:  whenever he speaks, he lies; whenever he makes a promise, he breaks it; and whenever he is trusted, he betrays his trust.


Robert Frost wrote, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”  To me, it is not necessary that  you make promises to others, but the promise made to your own self is of much significance. Therefore, make a promise to your own self and make sure that it be fulfilled. Your New Year’s Resolutions are your promises to yourself.  Keep it up.


Mr. Zile Singh is much respected Link Columnist, writer, a Vipassana Meditator and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Human Rights.  He can be reached at zsnirwal@yahoo.ca

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