My Word is My Bond

I grew up in the Midwest, land of wheat and corn, lazy summer days by the pond, sleds and skis in the winter. As I watched men interact with each other, I learned one thing: the handshake of an honest man is worth more than any written contract any day. As I moved into my career, I was blessed to meet a group of brilliant engineers during my work with the InteropNet at the gigantic Interop trade show. These men and women were the best of the best, elite network engineers at the top of their game. We worked at the bleeding edge of technology, expecting -- knowing really -- that things would go wrong and we would fix them. As a result, engineers from competitive companies often worked together to fix interoperability issues (that is, after all, where "Interop" originated). This team was the Interop NOC team (NOC stands for Network Operations Center), and to this day they remain among my best friends and among those I respect the most in the world.

As a team, we operated under the "NOC moral NDA," an unwritten agreement that was stronger than any written word could make it. When we work together even now, years later, a simple, "this is under NOC NDA" is all we need to be assured of confidentiality. It's unquestionable. Take it to the bank, it's trustworthy.

Unfortunately, this is increasingly rare in the world today. It seems that many people are comfortable telling "half-truths" (which is another word for "lies"), breaking promises, breaching confidentiality, and generally playing roughshod with integrity. Regardless of any excuses that perpetrators may offer for this kind of behavior, it's all dishonest. And done once, it means that the perpetrator can no longer be trusted with any commitment, promise, or communication.

I don't think the short-term benefit of such a strategy is worth the long-term loss.

For your part, what does it cost for youth give up your integrity?

When dealing with others, I think Ronald Regan's strategy is the best I've heard:


...but verify.

Promises, Promises

As I begin a new day, I am thinking about the power of commitments and agreements... When I make an agreement with myself or another, I create a reality that didn't exist before. The agreement creates a bond between present and future, intent and reality. What happens next? What happens next is a function of whether or not I keep the agreement and whether or not I'm moving towards its keeping. When I am active in the actions of a plan to complete my agreement, there is a sense of accomplishment and awareness of integrity.

When I am not active in moving towards my promise, I tend to hide from my commitment. I "forget" it, avoid it, and most often procrastinate in creating any plan to achieve it. While I may suppress my sense of integrity lost, it is there, gnawing at my self worth, reminding me that I am untrustworthy, and keeping me from moving forward in my life.

There is a false antidote to this struggle: I just avoid making commitments. If I don't commit to you that I will do or be something, I can't fail to deliver. Unfortunately, this means I leave behind in my wake an ambiguous mess of misunderstanding and confusion. "I thought you said..." "No, I never said that! What I said was..." Together with phrases like "I'll try..." "If I can..." and even "Sounds good!"

But underneath the outward assurance, inside you know. You avoided the commitment, created a sense of agreement to avoid conflict, and built a line of defenses based on waffle-words.

The problem is that we pay the price for this lack of agreement and commitment. We live life out of integrity and feel the weight of deception and doubt. We lose clear priorities. We have no clean lines.

So we look for others to tell us what to do. And we repeat the cycle: You will commit to only what you know you can easily accomplish. You hide from any possible failure by not promising more. You create a bastion of reasons. You're so busy. Family commitments call. Work needs you. Bad traffic. And on and on we go, spinning excuses and watching life tick-tock, tick-tock to the end.

And we die before our time.

Want to live? Take a risk! Commit to an accomplishment that means something to you. Commit it to yourself, someone important to you, or to God.

Then take the first step: figure out the first few steps on the path to getting there. Create review milestones when you'll correct your plan, expand it, and clarify it. Get to the end. Pick small promises at first. Take out the garbage. Sort the recyclables. Wash the dishes and put them away. And do what you promise. Create a habit. Then build on it.

Live your commitments. Everything else is noise and smoke.