Do you remember learning cursive as a child? Somewhere around the second grade most of us learned to take our block letter printing and add some curves to learn what was called penmanship back then. The highlight of these lessons was learning to write our name. We were told that writing was our unique identifier – our signature. I used to practice writing my name and giving autographs as if I were a famous baseball player.
As we got older, we learned that our signature when applied to a document had special meaning – that we agreed with something or agreed to take some action. But in reality most of my agreements were verbal in the form of a commitment for some future action. Just saying “I commit” carried a lot of weight. As an adult I’ve learned that not all commitments are created equal, however. Some treat commitments lightly – “I’ll do it maybe if I have time”. Others treat commitments like promises – “you can count on me to do it”. Some break commitments without telling you.
How do we know if when someone makes a commitment, he or she actually intends to fulfill that commitment? It’s impractical for us to ask people to swear an oath to fulfill their commitments. My solution is simple. When in doubt ask the other person to give their word. For most of us this is serious stuff. We don’t give our word lightly. Our word conveys something more than a commitment for a future action. Our word is deeper; it’s our integrity. Our word creates a bond between people. One that is hard to take lightly or to break. Your word is a promise with an exclamation point. Breaking your word will likely erode whatever trust remains in a relationship.
Our children may no longer be learning cursive; penmanship may go the way of the slide rule and squiggles on paper may serve as a signature but our word will always be our word. That’s our responsibility to teach our children.