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The problem with promises


Ralph Thomas


  My wife and I are blessed to be able to live next door to one of our daughters and her family of a husband and four children. We have been able to watch our grandchildren progress from elementary school through high school and now, to college. It has been a wonderful experience, but not without challenges.

  One of our greatest challenges has been, and still is, trying to keep our stuff at our house. If you are grandparents living close to your children and grandchildren you know where I am going with this. If something is temporarily moved from our house to their house we expect it to magically return. Not always so. Grandma handles it better than I, although I have heard her grumble about the mysterious disappearance of eggs, butter, milk, syrup, spices, sugar, cooking utensils, etc. probably not much different than many families. Grandma and I handle such disappearances much differently. Grandma grumbles, but says I rant and rave, whatever that means.

  I have a workshop full of tools and all of the miscellaneous items one has collected over a period of do-it-yourself repair work over almost 60 years. To discover that a socket wrench I need to replace a part on my truck is missing is the beginning of the R and R (rant and rage). My first response used to be: no problem, I know exactly where it is. Ten years of trying to keep track of our stuff has been long enough to learn this is not necessarily true. Now, our first response is to call next door to see if the disappearing item is there. Sometimes the response I get is, “Yes, I borrowed it, but I was going to bring it back.”

  Borrowing to me is a promise  . . .  a promise to return something. Like money. I remember many years ago signing a Promissory Note. It was a legal document clearly stating  how and when the promise was to be fulfilled and  what the consequences would be if I did not fulfill the terms of the note. Nowadays I fear the word promise has lost much of its meaning. So much so, that it is commonly used when there is no intent to fulfill the promise. The word is also used to justify some action to make it more acceptable, such as, “I’ll call you next week and we’ll have lunch, I promise.”

  We find the same misuse of the word in all walks of life and especially in the world of government and politics. The word promise disarms us because we assume the promise will be fulfilled. We have all been the victims of promises not fulfilled. But, there is a greater issue.

  Eventually, we begin to learn not to trust those who make promises without fulfilling them. This, to me, demonstrates a flaw in their character. I see it as being no different than not telling the truth. Unfortunately, when individuals or governments fail to deliver what they promised, we have begun to shrug it off as business as usual. Perhaps we should demand that those who make promises fulfill them. At the very least, don’t re-elect them if they don’t fulfill their promises. 

  One of my grandsons became a promise-project for me. If he asked to borrow something I would always ask him to promise to bring it back and he would do so. If he did not honor his promise, he and I would have a grandfatherly  conversation about why it was important to me that I be able to trust him. I am glad to say that I have seen the results of these conversations.  I now know I can trust him.

  Whoops, grandma just reminded me I promised to replace the light bulb, yesterday. 

  Ralph Thomas is a Locust Grove resident and the author of Doing Great, but Getting Better and Getting Old Can be Fun.




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