In our family, we always heard that a person’s word is his bond and that you’re as good as your word. We also lived by the creed that a deal can be sealed with a handshake. Years later, with the changing values, people were advised to seal their deals in writing and in an attorney’s office.
We seemed to live in simpler times where white hats represented the good guys and black hats represented the bad guys. You could identify the bad guys because they always looked bad. They were dressed in sleazy clothes, smelled bad, and were poorly educated.
In today’s society, those same bad guys are dressed in Armani suits, wearing a Rolex watch and some woodsy cologne, and quite possibly are Ivy League graduates.
I take promises very seriously. If I promise to do something, I do it. If I promise to not do something, I don’t do it. End of story. Therefore, I make it my business to not promise anything that I might not be able to fulfill. And even worse, if someone promises me something, I expect them to come through with it. When that fails to happen, my respect for that person plummets by several notches and I know not to believe anything they tell me.
Harsh. But there you have it. That’s how I was brought up and I’ve never been able to break away from what I learned at my parents’ knees.
Stress has been blamed for a lot of things, e.g., rudeness, breaking promises, theft, quitting a job or ending a relationship by email or by texting, continually breaking appointments or being late for appointments, etc., but what it boils down to is really a lack of character. When a person is under a lot of stress, that is the time when we get to see a person’s true character.
It’s easy to talk about the importance of integrity but it’s not so easy to live it. If it isn’t a soul-deep commitment, it crumbles under adversity. There are a couple of old axioms: “talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than words.” There have been a lot of jokes like “whoever says that talk is cheap has never had to pay a telephone bill”, but not too many jokes have surfaced about actions speaking louder than words.
One of the most amazing assumptions that many people make is that they can do all sorts of nefarious things and, when called on the carpet, apologize for the act, be forgiven, and then repeat the same action with impunity. And why shouldn’t they think they can do what they like if we let them get away with it?
I think each of us has a cutoff valve that tells us when enough is enough. Some people become abusive, shout, and storm off. Others retreat behind a wall of silence and lick their wounds in private. Some people express their feelings verbally or physically while others go into the passive-aggressive mode. But, for many others, they just avoid unpleasantness by pretending it doesn’t exist or by avoiding the people who are causing it.
We seem to have lost our moral compass. We used to adhere to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Nowadays, it seems as though people have adopted a new Golden Rule: “Do unto others before they do unto you” with the oft repeated mantra: “no good deed goes unpunished.”
With accountability at an all-time low and people trying to see how much they can get away with, it’s no wonder that scams are proliferating in a way they never have before. And even with proof that our actions come back to haunt us, people are still not able to connect the dots.
They still don’t see that when you cheat someone, then someone will cheat you. When you betray someone, you can expect someone to betray you. When you take advantage of someone, you can almost predict that someone will take advantage of you. We see this precept in action every day and still there are so many who are oblivious to it and think it doesn’t apply to them.
Life doesn’t have to be so difficult. On the premise that we create our own hardships, we can also choose to create an easier life. For that to happen, we have to choose to live with kindness, dignity, and respect for all. We have to treat people as we would like to be treated.