• Is your word as good as your signature?

    Do you remember learning cursive handwriting as a child? Somewhere around the second grade, most of us learned how to link our letters with curves. The highlight of these lessons was always learning to write our names in cursive. We were told this was our unique identifier, our signature. I can still remember handing mine out like an autograph, as if I were a famous baseball player.

    As we got older, we learned our signature had special meaning when applied to a document—that we were agreeing with its contents or, quite often, agreeing to take responsibility. But in reality, since I was a young man, most of the agreements I’ve made were in the form of verbal commitments. Even saying something as simple as “I’ll be there” carried a lot of weight; people expected me to show up when I said I would. It was in those young adult years of helping friends move and sharing rides when I learned not everyone took their commitments as seriously as I did. Some friends and colleagues would agree to something only “if I have time,” while others would fail to deliver on their promise every time, not even offering the courtesy of a warning or explanation.

    So how can we tell when someone makes a commitment if the person intends to follow through? Since we can’t ask people to swear an oath to fulfill their commitments, my solution is simple: when in doubt, ask the other person to give his or her word. For most of us this is serious stuff. We don’t give our word lightly. Our word is more than a commitment for a future action; it’s our integrity. Our word creates a bond between people that is hard to take lightly or to break. Our word is a promise with an exclamation point, and breaking our word will likely erode any trust in a relationship.

    Children may no longer be learning cursive, e-signatures may have replaced pens, but our word will always be our word. It’s our responsibility to give it with integrity.

    Pushing Your Thinking

    • Is your commitment the same as your word or promise? If not, why not?
    • Do you regularly follow through with your commitments? What about your promises? What gets in the way?
    • Do you consider others who make a commitment to you as making a promise? Is that how they typically view their commitments?
    • When is a commitment not a promise?
    • How do we teach children that their word is a promise?

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