I was born in South Africa, where it is part of the Afrikaner culture that giving your word is a real commitment and sign of respect, both to yourself and to others. Your word is your honor. To break your word, and so your promise, is the last thing in the world you would do, in fact it is inconceivable.
‘Giving your word’ can refer to so many things, for example, borrowing money or a pen and telling the other person that you will return it, or telling someone that you will meet them at a certain time and place (can you remember those days before mobile phones?) or promising that you will ‘back them up’, ‘stand up for them’, do your homework, or honor your side of any given agreement. I could go on.
I go about mylife these days and I find myself pondering about “I give you my word.” Is there still such a thing as “my word?“
Does it have the same meaning and importance in today’s world? Do people even realise, or have any sense of guilt when they break their word, thus breaking their commitment or promise to themselves and toot hers?”
Keeping my word in my career:
My job entails many responsibilities. I treat patients and promise to write to their referring specialists, in order to recap the session, or to send them their home exercises, etc. These are big promises and when I make them I am usually in a one on one setting with my clients. They have my full attention, as well as my time. When I make these promises, I say it out loud, because I know if I say I will do something, “I have to do it” - I cannot opt out. This act of making a deliberate promise to myself is my way of forcing me to be diligent and I always set a deadline for delivering it. So many times things would come up: I can forget, I have over-committed myself, or I end up working over the week-end, late at night, etc., I may not be in the mood, or perhaps I’m too tired or too foggy to do it… There are a thousand reasons that can get in the way.
This made me realise that I have to be very cautious when I make a promise. I must really value the person. I must be willing to put in the effort and take time out to do so and I must believe in the importance of the commitment.
This brings me to the other side of the equation. Making a promise usually entails two or more parties (except if the promise is to yourself, which I will come to later). Imagine that I made the effort to set a programme, (this used to happen quite often) and then send it to my client and then my client comes to the next session and announces that they did not receive the programme, or did not have time to open it. Or that they have not had time to do the exercises. Can you imagine how that makes me feel? Can you see how such a lack of commitment can break down a valuable session. It is not only a cost to me, but also costs my client £119, as well as their time!
I have ended up on the wrong side of this equation too many times. I don’t want to be annoyed with my clients and resent them for wasting my time - so I now enter agreements very cautiously.
Do we both believe in ‘keeping our word’? Do we share the importance of aligning word and deed? I now enter each step of the process with an agreement. I take into consideration whether my clients want a programme in the first place, whether they are absolutely committed to doing their home exercises, if not we simply agree not to send them any programmes - without putting them on the spot. Sometimes we agree that they will go home and make notes of what they have understood from the session and to either email me or to bring their notes back to the next session.
Entering any empowering therapy session, physical or mental, requires effort and commitment. It is important that people give their word and keep it.
I am only a human being. When I am under a lot of pressure I know that I can forget something. Under these circumstances I tread more cautiously. I set-up reminders on my phone. I ask my team to help me be accountable and most importantly I ask my client to keep me informed and let me know within 48 hours if they have not received anything from me and, if so, to notify me at once.
Keeping my word to my clients and for my clients to keep their word to me, forms the basis of all my commitments: to be able to meet expectations, to achieve results on both sides – client and therapist. I am a firm believer in setting a standard of conduct from the very first session.
Keeping my word with my family and friends.
My amazing brother, whom I love dearly, is probably the worst time keeper in the world. This inability to be on time, has been with him since childhood and has impacted on my life, my two sisters’ life and my parent’s life, for as long as I can remember.
I have clear memories of sitting in a car in the mornings, on our way to school, hearing my father honking away, my mother yelling and of me getting out of the car and yelling even harder than my mother! This did not happen just once, but all the time and it lasted for the remainder of my school years. My brother, simply could not be on time.
Then I moved to London where I lived by myself. I had to get myself to my appointments on time. It caused me so much stress to be late or even ‘just managing to be on time’. I soon realised that there was absolutely no point dripping with sweat, or having a perspiring forehead or a clinging, sticky shirt for the rest of the day, so I started to be punctual and take my time. I opted to read or have a coffee, and familiarize myself with my environment. Then then I started to realise who of my friends, colleagues, clients are late and guess what, it’s always the same ones…. And yes, I do note the perspiration on their foreheads, the clammy shirts, the hasty movements, the lack of breath and I silently smile and say ‘thank you’. Thank you for making me commit and promise myself I would always be on time.
I communicated the importance of time keeping to my brother and told him how I felt about people disrespecting my time when they are late. There is always a time when things get really out of control, however that is the not the norm and not a ‘weekly occurrence!’ I told him it was very important to me and that when we make a date to meet, I expected him to be on time – no matter what. I also agreed to give him a 5-minute leeway, but after that I would leave.
This was one hell of a promise to make, as being rejected by my brother would hurt me very much even now. Also, bear in mind that I have grown up with my brother, he’s my best mate, and we’ve always bailed each other out…
It was December, a Friday night, I was working late. I had to book a taxi directly after work (I gave myself 25 minutes to get ready and have a shower) to take me from Hampstead to Notting Hill Gate. I had booked a lovely restaurant for dinner and I wanted to say good-bye to him before I departed on my holiday over Christmas and New Year.
I got in the taxi, was just about dry and controlling my breath. I tried to put the day behind me and was looking forward to seeing my brother. I remember that I had a nervous feeling of anticipation. It started snowing and the world slowly turned whiter and whiter. As soon as I got to my destination, I got out of the taxi. I ran to the tube station where I had agreed to meet him. I went inside for shelter and waited … the 5 minutes were up… I walked back outside to see if he had called me or if we had missed one another. By now 6 minutes had passed. It was my word to myself and my word to my brother versus a great night out for Christmas. Shit, to say the least!
I remember having an ‘out of body experience.’ I could see my feet moving down the stairs into the tube station. I could feel the tears running down my cheeks and the anger and heat in my face and body. The fury, disguised my profound disappointment, sadness and fear. I think I must have walked really slowly, desperately hoping I would bump into him, I don’t remember anything of the rest of the journey back home - to this day it is a total blank.
That was such a hard thing to do and that incident must have beenten years ago now. My brother was furious with me and was full of all kinds of excuses why he was late…. however.
Since then, my brother has never been late for any of our appointments. In fact he says that he used to have an attack of diarrhea every time he had to meet me, so he madesure he was always at least 30 minutes early. After that incident, I do not think that there will ever be another occasion in our lives when we will not keep our word to one another.
This story might sound like an over exaggeration, a hefty penalty for a very small sin, however it was not that night that mattered, it was a life-time of future nights that did.
Professional people making a promise to me:
I recently had a profound experience. I was being treated by a wonderful, very grounded woman and felt very safe in such a daunting and intimate situation. It took me a long time to pluck-up the courage to go for this specific treatment and I am very glad that I did. I benefited right away and am still benefiting three days later. The only sad thing about my encounter with this lovely person, was that she promised to write me an email within 2 days of my appointment to find out how I was getting on, so she could decide whether to schedule a follow-up treatment. It is now day 6 and I have not yet received an email from her. I am hoping to hear from her in the next few days, fingers tightly crossed, because right now I need to overcome my disappointment, but if she does not email me by then, I am afraid that that would be the end of the line with her. I have to stand by promise to myself. If you give me your word, then you have to keep it. If you cannot trust yourself to keep it then ask me to keep you accountable for keeping it.
I truly believe that in life, all relationships – whether professional or personal - would be so much better if we keep our word. When we promise something and act with integrity, we keep our words and deeds aligned.
And please, when you bump into me on the road, do not say to me that you will call me, just to be polite, without really meaning it. We all live busy lives and get carried away by the moment, however do take one step back, take a breath when you make a promise, whether to me or to anyone else. That will help us all to make less promises and put less stress on ourselves.
A promise to myself:
We all make promises to ourselves, every year, every month, every week and every day. I for example would promise myself that I would run three times this coming week. When I make the promise to myself I fully intend to honor my word, however the week then commences and guess what; I have too much work, I end up working exceptionally long days, I end up being too exhausted to even put my trainers on, never mind think of a run!
Another of my favorites is to promise myself that I would go the whole week T-total – no alcohol. Guess what, the week starts and I have a stressful day, or a friend calls me out of the blue that I have not seen in a long time - and we would love to have a drink together and of course it is a very special occasion as we have not seen one another in ages. Alternatively it is a particularly cold day, or my husband fancies a drink and lures me in to having a drink with him, as one drink will not make any difference…
Can you see how quickly it is to ‘slip’ or to ‘fall’ down a slippery slope. Before you know it you are back in your old spiral of ‘valid excuses’, ‘justifying your actions’ and postponing your commitments until next week.
We all have friends that are permanently on a detox, that are permanently going to lose weight, that is always about to start a training regime, give up smoking, whatever it is….. at one point we all get to that point where we no longer pay attention. We have to safe-guard ourselves and our own expectations. Be careful, I am speaking about myself before I speak about anyone else. Do not become one of those empty vessels and if you do, start to change your tune, by simply staying quiet, reflecting, thinking. Consider your pitfalls and decide how to avoid them by starting to implement realistic goals so you can keep your promises and so build credits of integrity for yourself while slowly extending that to your friends, family, community and life itself.
Whatever you say and do, think what you put out there. It can be so meaningful and yet so easily demeaning. Leave foot prints of integrity behind you and surround yourself with people that do care about the meaning of ‘keeping your word.’