The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.

The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present. – Niccolò Machiavelli

A trip to the park was promised. It rained. Do you cancel the trip, or is there some puddle stomping in your future?

What does that mean?
This is a quote, once again, that was directed at a Prince or ruler of a City State. It deals with the all too familiar situation where a promise made has been overcome by events. What seemed like a simple promise now is either a real pain to complete, or flat out impossible.

Now what? What is a ruler to do? What is anyone, for that matter, to do? Whether you’re a boss dealing with a promise you made to a customer or your employees, or a parent who promised something to a child, just what are you going to do about it?

Do you break your promise, or do you break yourself trying to fulfill that promise? In the middle ages, some chivalric orders would have done the latter. Today, many people simply do the former. While the exact situation will impact your decision, it might be something to think about.

Why are promises important?  
While I try to keep as many of my promises as I possibly can, I realize that from time to time life will mess things up. The trick is convincing the people who are now not going to get their promise fulfilled that this is both valid and unchangeable.

The quote makes no excuses for the reason why a promise is going to be broken. Remember, this is advice to politicians, so promises usually mean very little. In fact, there is a whole category of political speech that is considered to be flat-out lies, and they are called “campaign promises,” promises that no one really expects them to keep.

But, for the rest of us, we probably don’t want to be thought of as being as unreliable as a politician. That means we need to try to keep our promises as often as possible, and modify, rather than break, them when we cannot. It also helps to make few promises you aren’t positive you can keep.

Where can I apply this in my life?
Well, let’s look at a few possible scenarios where a promise, given in the past, is broken in the present. The list is of who made the promise, to whom the promise was made, what the promise was, and why the promise cannot be completed.

  • Dad promised the kids trip to the park, but it’s raining.
  • The boss promised the workers raises, but the contract fell through.
  • The boss promised the customer a prototype, but a subcontractor goes bankrupt.
  • You bail on one date, because someone higher on your list calls and wants to go out.

In each case, there are excuses or reasons. But how do you tell a kid that the rain means you can’t go outside and have fun? How do you tell your workers that there’s no raise, despite your promise? How do you go back to a customer and say that it won’t be ready on time? How do you tell one person that you can’t go, so you can go with someone else?

In each case, you have an excuse as to why it wasn’t your fault. You don’t control the rain, the other businesses you deal with, or who calls you back late Saturday afternoon. However, you also have the option of making it work, if you are willing to try hard enough.

You could get out the rain gear and go stomp in some puddles, with hot soup or cocoa for when you come back in. You could cut back in some other areas to free up at least some of the raise money you promised. You could go into emergency mode, and scour the town for someone to finish the project. And you could always try to get the more recent caller to do something next weekend.

Like nearly everything in life, there is a continuum of reasons for breaking a promise. Everything from the proverbial “Act of God” to “it’s just easier to not do it” are out there. The question is were do you draw the line between ethical behavior and when does the behavior go past that and become unethical?

This is a decision based on personal and cultural values and standards, and speaks to what you value in the category of character. You will have to determine where this point is for you. You may also find that the line is different for different people or situations. Do you work harder to keep promises given to close friends and family? That might be something to think about.

If you are a politician, like the quote is advising, you will the promises you need to make to get what you need to do today. Then, when the day comes to keep the promise, you will either keep it, or break it, depending on what is necessary for you to do on that day. No wonder people don’t like most politicians!

What will you do about promises made when things in the present get difficult? You can think about it now, or wait until it happens, and panic then. It’s up to you. You can probably guess what my recommendation would be, right?

From: Twitter, @ursulastephens
confirmed at :
Photo by cloneofsnake


About philosiblog

I am a thinker, who is spending some time examining those short twitter quotes in greater detail on my blog.
This entry was posted in character, decision, loyalty, motivation, setting an example, value and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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