Recently in a conversation with a friend, she shared a scripture with me that rang a bell. We were talking about how often people promise to show up, yet we never know if they will or not, whether for a social occasion or a repair job. She confessed that she used to be like that. “I’d always say, ‘Yes, sure I’ll be there’, and then stay home instead. It was a learned behavior. My parents did it all the time.” She revealed, with her husband nodding in agreement, that when he was first interested in her, he would ask if she were going to a barbecue and she’d say yes. So he’d go and “endure the excruciating evening” waiting in vain for her to turn up. Then she got to the heart of the matter. She said, “I never knew I mattered, so my word didn’t matter. Who would care whether I showed up or not.” Then one day, a friend confronted her about this habit, loving her enough to support her and to confront her. The friend said, “Have you ever seen the Scripture ‘Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no’?” (Mathew 5:37) She went on to explain that she had asked this woman many times if she would go to a party with her, or come for a visit, only to be disappointed. “You say ‘yes’ but you don’t mean it. You aren’t reliable. I counted on you, but you rarely came when you said you would”.
We need to realize we do matter and our word is precious. One way to nurture love and friendship is to be utterly truthful and trustworthy. Jesus never swore. He didn’t need to because he only and always told the truth. He asks us not to swear either by our own head or by Heaven, but only to let our word ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ mean ‘No’. According to the Baha’i teachings, “Truthfulness is the foundation of all virtues.” What if the foundation of a house is flimsy or unreliable? The whole house could fall down. Another powerful passage in the Torah of Judaism tells us never to swear by God or to promise something to God that we don’t deliver. (Ecclesiastes 5:4 -5) “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in paying it; for He takes no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than you should vow and not pay.” This commitment to truthfulness requires that we not only value our own word, but that we value our time and energy. It calls for the Virtues strategy of Setting Clear Boundaries, that are based on justice for ourselves and for others. Good self-care dovetails perfectly with reliability since it calls us to agree only to things we have time to do and that we actually want to do. I often quote Jalal’u’din Rumi, Sufi mystic poet saying “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are thousands of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” We don’t have to do everything. And we certainly shouldn’t agree to everything others request.
So, I was thinking about this and realizing many people say yes automatically because they want to please the person who has asked for something. Better to please God and make only vows we can keep. Only say what we mean, and mean what we say. Don’t swear to anything or make false or uncertain promises. To accomplish this, we need new ways to respond to requests that give us time to consider them. Here are a few that are truthful and trustworthy:
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“I’m not promising anything.”
“Not sure if I can make it, but I hope to.”
“I’ll be there, God willing.”
“I’ll let you know one way or another.”
My friend treasured her teachable moment as a result of her friend’s truthfulness with her. She now strives to only vow what she truly intends to fulfill.
How powerfully each one of us can contribute to the level of trust in our communities, simply by keeping our word – not promising, or swearing we will do something, not agreeing to something prematurely, but only telling the truth. The place where we live could be a brighter light in a world longing for truth. What a foundation we would be building for a culture of integrity where every individual, family and government only made promises they could actually keep.