Back when I was about 22 years old, I was working as a machinist for a small company in Los Angeles. It happened that I lost a day’s wages one week because I was sick, and because I couldn’t afford to lose the pay, I needed to make up those hours.
I got my supervisor’s OK to work that Saturday, and I then informed the payroll person that I would be working Saturday and requested that my paycheck be for a full week’s work. She was extremely suspicious and very reluctant to agree to write my check for the full week’s wages. She asked me several times to assure her that I would work the Saturday as I had said I would.
Finally she said, “Do you give me your word that you will make up the time on Saturday?” This surprised me, and I answered, “When I told you that I would work on Saturday, I was giving you my word.”
In the end, she did arrange to make my paycheck for the full week, and I did work that Saturday as I had said I would. But I have never forgotten how surprised I was that she was so suspicious and unable or unwilling to believe that when I said I would do something, I was giving her my word.
Why surprised? Because even then, as a very young man, I believed that my word was my bond. If I said I would do something, that was — for me — a solemn promise and I was bound to that commitment.
I’m sorry to be cynical, but in my view, that sort of thinking is very rare in today’s world. Too many times I have been promised, “I’ll call you around 9 tomorrow morning,” and he never does. Or, “I’ll be there at 4 p.m. on Saturday,” and she fails to show up until 6:45 p.m. — with no apology or phone call to say she’s running late. Or, “The check is in the mail,” or any number of other worthless promises.
Too few people seem to think that keeping one’s word is important. No value is placed on keeping commitments.
And while I’m on the subject, here’s how I feel about people who are late for appointments — especially those who are always late for them. When you are late for an appointment with me, and you have not called me to explain that you’re stuck in traffic or whatever (we all have cell phones nowadays, don’t we?), I get this message whether it’s true or not: “I’m more important than you are. My time is more valuable than yours. It doesn’t matter if you have to wait for me, because you and your time are not as important as whatever concerns me and my life.” And, “If you are a real friend you will understand.”
Sorry, no I won’t. And if you are a real friend, you’ll honor your commitment to me.
Recently I was involved in a situation where I had to make a decision between being nice or being nasty. It was someone’s responsibility (and promise) to get a certain job done and to get it done in a timely manner. It was on a Wednesday when I discovered that an important job that needed to get done by Friday would not get done until the following Wednesday.
Here was another case of someone committing to do something and then being laissez faire about keeping the commitment. My decision was whether to be a nice guy and passively accept the delay, submissively tolerate someone else’s failure to keep their commitment, or to be nasty, raise some hell and demand that the promise be kept and the job be done as promised on Friday.
Guess which way I went. Let’s put it this way: The job got done on Friday.