A memorable and popular quote from the movie Forrest Gump is the phrase, A Promise is a Promise. Although many may not recall the details of the scene, most remember and repeat the words. It’s New Year’s Eve and Forrest is in New York City with Lt. Dan. When Forrest explains that he’s going to move to Bayou La Batre and buy a shrimp boat Lt. Dan scoffs at the idea. He finds it unfathomable that a man would honor an intent even after the death of his best friend. In answer to this incredulity, Forrest simply deadpans, “A promise is a promise, Lt. Dan”. Forrest’s basic principles dictated that he had to fulfill the promise he made to Bubba, despite the man’s demise. Now that is integrity!
Lt. Dan laughed at Forrest’s reply and then made a bold statement that seemed to be in jest. Lt. Dan laughingly announced that if Forrest were ever a shrimp boat captain, then he would be Forrest’s first mate, mockingly calling him Gilligan. Later in the movie, Lt. Dan demonstrates his own surprising sense of honor and ability to keep a promise. We see him waiting at the dock as an exuberant Captain Forrest jumps off his shrimp boat and swims to greet Lt. Dan, who humbly states, ‘Well, here I am. I’m a man of my word.’ Both Lt. Dan and Forrest had integrity. Is your word something that other people value and respect? Do you honor your own word?
Integrity is defined as adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. For this discussion I’ll leave out any moral or ethical judgments and limit my discussion to honesty. Specifically, I’ll focus on the honesty of honoring your word. Do you do what you say you will do? Do others view you as a person of integrity who keeps his word? Do you say what you mean and mean what you say?
Consider that the only thing any one person really has control over is his or her word. Everything else in life is dependent on others or circumstances or luck. Your co-worker doing what they are supposed to do is out of your control. Your spouse or child doing what you want them to do is out of your control. Despite our best hopes and attempts to control others, it really is an impossible goal. The only thing you have complete control over is the words you speak.
If you accept that you have control over your words, then ask yourself, what are your words and promises to others saying about you? Are you quick to make promises that you don’t or won’t keep? Is it easier to just say what the other person wants to hear but you (and they) ultimately know will not happen? Is your word rock-solid like Forrest Gump’s? After all, A Promise is a Promise! If the answers to these questions are yes, yes and no, then you may need to consider taking responsibility for your words.
So how does one take responsibility for one’s words? Here are 3 basic ways to be responsible for your words.
- Think before speaking. Too often our words (our answer to a request) are simply a reaction, “Sure, I can do that!” When in reality, there wasn’t real consideration given to what was being requested. The answer “Sure, I can do that!” is easy and non-confrontational and expedient – it postpones the reality of what is being requested. Afterwards, you probably think, why did I agree to do that? Each and every time you say ‘yes’, give it enough consideration beforehand to be able to fulfill on A Promise is a Promise!
- Be willing to say No. When thinking occurs before speaking, “No” will frequently be the correct answer. The reality is that we all have too many things to do and too many options for how we are to spend our time. Doing everything is not an achievable option. Saying ‘No’ frees you from the future guilt you’ll feel when you realize that you cannot follow through. Most importantly, others will respect an honest No more than they’ll respect an unfulfilled promise.
- Clean up your misspeaks. We all misspeak from time to time. We quickly say Yes when the reality is we meant No. Does that condemn you to having to fulfill on Yes? After all – A promise is a promise! Not necessarily; it’s perfectly legitimate to go back and say, “I’m sorry, I said yes, but it’s not something I can do.” While this might be embarrassing for you and disappointing to the other party, it shows more integrity than just unfulfilling the original promise. For example, extricating yourself from a thoughtless and exuberant yes to a dinner invitation is far more acceptable via polite apology and prompt retraction than simply not showing up! Be willing to take back your promises when appropriate and/or necessary.
Forrest Gump showed the world that A Promise is a Promise. By thinking first, learning to say No, and cleaning up any promises you’re not able to keep, you too will be a person of exceptional integrity – just like Forrest Gump!
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