Q: My partner and I recently had a different perspective on the issue of keeping one’s word and honoring how one feels. I had promised to do something with him, but when the time came I felt I really didn’t have the energy. So I changed my mind, and did something else. I decided to honor myself instead of keeping a promise. I don’t think honoring myself is the same as being selfish.
As I see it, love begins by honoring yourself. Energy is transient. Honoring thyself means honoring that energy. It doesn’t override a promise that’s made to a loved one. It means honor your energy. This is one of the truisms of life: Energy is transient! What do you think?
CdeQ: Yes, indeed, energy is transient. That’s its nature. It flows, and comes and goes. And since feelings and emotions are forms of energy, they are also transitory.
Feelings come and go like the breeze, and we have very little control over them. We can choose to attend to them, to ignore them, or to resist them when they arise, but we have very little (if any) control over when or whether they arise. Feelings blow through us like wind over the ocean. And we can let them toss us about like boats on the waves, or we can exercise the power of choice to steer our way through the storms of feelings (and energy).
Giving our word is like a rudder on a boat. It empowers us to navigate our way through the winds and currents of our always-changing emotions, feelings, and thoughts. That way, we are not at the mercy of our ever-shifting states of mind. We honor our feelings by allowing them to be what they are, just as we honor our journey at sea by paying attention to the waves and currents.
Keeping our word does not mean we don’t honor our feelings. We honor them by acknowledging and fully experiencing them as they occur. This does not mean always giving in to how we happen to feel at any particular moment. In fact, I would say “giving in” to our feelings is the exact opposite of “honoring thyself.”
To me, honoring thyself means honoring who we truly are, and who we truly are is created or declared by our word. We create who we are when we declare who we are. In that sense, honoring ourself means honoring our word, our promises. It is the core of our integrity. Integrity is being constant to our word, even in the face of “transient feelings” or “shifts in energy.”
This does not mean, of course, that we are “forced” to keep to our word/promise no matter what happens. We cannot be “victims” of our promises—that would be a contradiction because the spirit of the promise would be gone.
It is always a choice. We become a “victim” to our word only when we give up the power of choice. And we become a “victim” of circumstance when we give up a promise just because we no longer feel like keeping it.
We choose to keep our word, even when our feelings change. Sometimes, circumstances do change in ways that we may need to renegotiate a promise—that’s where communication is so important. Crises do happen beyond our control, and when they do, we may need to choose to cancel the original promise and recreate a new one. This should never be done lightly, and not as a matter of course. This is a far cry from just ignoring a promise because at some future time we may not “feel like it.” If everybody went around doing just what they “felt like” in the moment, the world would quickly collapse into social chaos.
So, rather than always simply acting on what we happen to feel like in the moment, I’m saying that what works is:
* be responsible for your feelings (own them);
* acknowledge your feelings (pay attention to them);
* allow yourself to fully experience your feelings; and
* nevertheless, keep your word.
Keeping our word cannot be dependent on whether we happen to feel like it at some future time. That would not be a promise. It would be a form of deception—because even if we meant it at the time, we also would know that we might cancel the “promise” whenever we felt like it. (Of course, if we let the other person know that our “promise” could be canceled at any time because we might not feel like it, then that would not be deception. However, the other person would know he or she had not received a promise. Just unreliable words.)
Relationships are built on trust. And trust is built on knowing people will keep their word. It is also built on mutual respect and honoring of the other. If circumstances change and keeping a promise would in some way damage or be detrimental to the other, then clearly it would be time to talk about it, and renegotiate. Love is not forcing others to do what is unhealthy, nor is it enabling them to break their word just because they no longer feel like it. Love is supporting others to keep their word while honoring what they are feeling in the moment. Love is accepting times when promises need to be renegotiated.
My bumper-sticker for this is: “Energy is transient. Promises are trustworthy.”