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Every Promise Contains the Kernel of a Lie

August 6, 2018


A promise is a “declaration or assurance that a person will do something or that a particular thing will happen” (dictionary.com).  Of course a promise can also apply in the negative – to not do something or that a particular thing will not happen.

There is a quality of the “definite” in a promise, so much so that promises can even be legally binding.

However, promises are problematic, in my view, because, in realistic terms, we can’t absolutely ensure anything. There is no certainty in this world — except death and taxes, as the old adage goes.

So why do we enter into promises?

I would hazard that we make promises with the best of intentions. We may wish to demonstrate our sincerity. Or it’s customary under certain circumstances to promise to do something, for example, contracting to complete a job of work, pledging to tell the truth (as we perceive it) in a court of law or swearing an oath to uphold the integrity of an elected office.

However, people change. People grow. Stuff happens. Life teaches us and transforms us. Our experiences reshape us. Think about someone, who has survived a traumatic incident – maybe witnessed violence, suffered the sudden loss a loved one or lived through a catastrophic weather event – they will likely tell you that the experience has changed them forever. Or, in the very least, the experience may have caused them to re-order their priorities.

So, that’s why I’m saying that every promise contains the kernel of a lie.  Not an intentional lie, but an untruth nonetheless, because life is unpredictable and, as result, so are we. We don’t know who or what we may become after life has had its way with us.

There is a maxim, “Promises are made to be broken.”.

Rather than being a design fault, I believe that there is a kind of wisdom in that little kernel of a lie that inhabits every promise.