The Word

“The best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.”
- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon is one of those figures in history that everyone likes to make fun of. From naming your puddle Napoleon because of the psychological complex named after him, to just thinking he was an overall goof ball. Napoleon was a prominent figure during the French revolution as well as a very good war strategist.

The quote above is one that troubles me. The older I get, the truer it sounds.

I grew up believing that everyone was good, or at least had some good inside them. Life has taught me that a greater percentage of people are going to try to take advantage of every situation than those that try to pay it forward.

Before you try to tell me different, think of all the so called friends you have had to call to keep in contact with. Or the people that have done things for you, only to later expect something or a lot more in return. Then count those that have only appeared to want to know you while you help them with something that you are good at or its your profession.

Thankfully I have been able to meet a lot of people that have become true friends, but it still does not make it easier when you find out that some people you trusted were not truly there to be friends.

I try to keep my word every time I give it. In many situations I would have been better off not giving it rather than not keeping it. Last week while in Chicago I wanted to see a lot of my friends, but I ended up not being able to make any concrete plans with many of them… again the fear of giving my word and not keeping it.

It is not just me though, the older I get the harder it is to get confirmation from people on plans. Eric, Travis and I have been trying to get together for the last 5 years. I saw Travis this year, and I saw Eric about 4 ago… They saw each other last year(I was supposed to be there too, but work got in the way of that), but we have not been together as a group since college.

I wonder why it is that as adults, where we should be more secure of what we can and cannot do it becomes harder to give our word out. I miss the days of telling my friends, I will be there and not having anything to stop me from being able to keep my word.

4 Responses to The Word

  1. I’m sorry that life has dealt you such a hand to encourage cynicism toward people…

    Maybe I’m just different. Maybe I’m naive, and only see the world through rose-colored glasses. I can’t think of anyone I thought less of that I did something for and they wanted something unreasonable in return. I certainly can’t think of anyone who appeared to want to know me in exchange for something else. Maybe I’m just not important or good enough at anything to have warranted such attention. Certainly it’s never happened with women that way.

    But that said, even if I had known such people – I wouldn’t equate such actions with them being “good” or “not good” (evil?). If I asked a friend to help me clean my car and a week later he asked, or even expected me to help clean his garage – that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have “goodness” in his heart. It certainly doesn’t mean he’s going to take advantage of every situation. Even if I had 10 friends who took slight advantage of similar situations, it doesn’t follow they always are…enough to warrant such a dissolution of trust or goodwill.

    I think a lot of people get burned a few times, by the opposite sex, by a friend, by a coworker… and form an opinion that most people just suck. They’re no good, they’re all only out to take advantage of you, you can’t trust anyone, you should only watch out for yourself. I can’t imagine living in that kind of a world.

    I trust almost everyone, and I give everyone an opportunity to get to know me. It’s almost always paid off, and I don’t have any lingering resentments toward anyone. I’ve never been burned by anyone where I didn’t deserve it.

    There’s always two sides to every story and we have to be open-minded enough to understand the other person’s point of view as well. Where you perceive an egregious slight there may very well be a logical and understandable explanation. You just have to be patient enough, and open-minded and above all not egocentric enough to see all the sides.

  2. Barry,

    I am not a cynic at all, nor do I think everyone in the world is bad. However, I have learned that most people out there have themselves first before they have someone else. Not many people follow doctrines where everyone else is put before them.

    You actually scare me when you say this

    “Maybe I’m just not important or good enough at anything to have warranted such attention. ”

    I was talking in very general terms and while you might not have had people ask you for your knowledge or help it does not mean you do not posses it.

    Maybe this will let you know where I was coming from. I have friends that know how to fix cars and a LOT of people end up expecting them to work or their cars for either free or very little. I have been taken advantage of in the past because I can troubleshoot hardware and I have seen others expecting people to do something for nothing.

    While I might have sounded a little jaded, I assure you that I can trust people. I do give trust rather easily, but once it is lost, it is almost impossible to regain. I am a very positive person and try to hope for the best but not expect it.

    My rant was directed at lack of time to keep my word to see my friends. I dislike not being able to give my word to people about things because I just simply lack the time.

  3. I guess where you see people taking advantage, I see an opportunity to serve without expecting something in return.

    I do have a certain amount of computer and internet skills. When someone asks for help with a computer problem and does not offer renumeration, I don’t feel I’ve been taken advantage of. I feel I’ve unselfishly helped someone, and feel good about myself since the act of helping others is sufficient to me.

    That doesn’t mean I’m going to do my job for free, or am going to always do things for others without any expectations.

    I used to do theatre for free. I music directed I don’t know how many shows, just for the love of the theatre. At this point now, with a family and their time needs pressing on me, I can’t do it for free anymore – I have to be paid. But there are actors in town who work in community theatre all the time for free. Because they love it. Should they be paid for their time, if the show’s charging admission and making money? Probably. Should I have been paid those other times I was an MD for free? Also probably. But I and others love donating our time because we love theatre, we don’t or didn’t mind.

    I just think though, in smaller situations, you shouldn’t always expect something in return for helping out people. Again, it’s about being a servant.

  4. I have no problem with helping other people, however I do not feel I have to be a servant to do it.

    You said a lot of things about what you have done, however you also said you LOVED doing it. Doing something you enjoy and you are not paid for is a great thing.

    I have volunteered at a hospital and an elementary school, interpreting and helping kids to read. I enjoyed both because I love helping others.

    I am not sure why you assume that I look at the world through only a perverse set of goggles that only sees people wanting things from me… that is not what I was trying to say at all, however I am not blind to the fact that given the chance most people take advantage of situations. It is not a hard rule, just something I have observed and do not like.

    Even at places like churches I have seen people abusing the people that donate their time to the church to the point that not doing something for the church on all of your free time was considered not serving God.

    I would do anything for any of my friends, and they can all tell you that. I have in the past donated my money, time, expertise and efforts to many different causes… however, just serving people that will not appreciate but simply abuse it is not something I agree with.

    Being realistic about most people’s intentions does not make cynical.

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