Few things anger us like promises unmet because the making and keeping of promises is one of the planks in the foundation of any healthy society. Everything from commerce and citizenship to friendships and family depend on us keeping our word, our self-control, and our promises.
Children understand this. Remember when you told your kids you would do something with them only to have plans change due to unforeseen circumstances? They probably looked at you with that accusatory stare and shouted “but you promised!”
Yes, we are experts in pointing out broken promises. But what about promises we should make to ourselves? Ethical living boils down to keeping an essential set of promises we have made to ourselves.
Taken together, they form our ethical position on personal integrity. These promises form us as people, but only if we keep them consistently. Here are a few suggestions.
I will be self-aware: Self-awareness means seeing yourself as you are both from outside yourself and from inside your head. It is recognizing your character flaws, weaknesses, excesses, and trigger-points as well as being honest about your abilities, strengths, insights, and duties.
But self-aware people don’t stop there. They also work hard at improving their weak areas and using their strengths for the good of others. Self-aware people are comfortable in their own skin, and this makes them great partners, spouses, teammates and peers. Success in life is largely dependent on seeing yourself correctly – both good and bad – and taking the steps necessary to be a better person tomorrow than you are today. Make the promise of self-awareness, and keep it.
I will be self-controlled: Self-control, as a virtue, goes all the way back to Aristotle. He considered it one of the essential virtues. Self-control means ordering your life from within rather than being pushed around by outside circumstance.
We live in a reactive world. Response and reaction form the majority of our news these days as we watch our society move from self-control and reflection to aggression, rant, and even violence catalyzed by people, words, and even ideas they oppose.
I wonder sometimes if those who are known for their reactions ever have any independent thoughts. Far better is the promise to be controlled from within by those ethical principles you have studied and honed carefully, based on truth and love.
I will be courteous: Courtesy is the virtue of treating everyone with the respect due to a fellow human being. Historically, this virtue arises from the fact that all have been created by God to be his image-bearers, and thus they are imbued with innate value and worth. Self-aware people understand this about themselves and everyone else. Self-controlled people refuse to allow their own prejudices to continue renting space in their lives.
Both produce a form of courtesy that is sincere without being sugary, authentic without erasing the differences that arise from opposing views. Self-controlled, courteous people deal with their differences differently than those who think progress is made through pontification and personal attack.
I will be quiet: More times than we think, saying nothing is a sign of good judgment. We live in a world where too many believe the rest of us desperately need to know what they are thinking, feeling, believing, and angry about, every moment of the day. They are the same people who think a social gathering exists for them to enlighten the crowd as to their personal likes, dislikes, views, and values.
The truth is, to paraphrase Susan Cain, we are all looking for an oasis of quiet in a world that can’t stop talking. And, to paraphrase our parents, if you can’t say something intelligent that demonstrates at least a modicum of reflection, with an added dash of accurate data, please be quiet.
Lastly, I will be responsible for my own actions: We are so shaped by outside influences today it is increasingly clear most no longer consider themselves culpable, even for their own actions.
And this brings us full circle. The unwillingness to accept responsibility for my feelings, words, and actions is the epitome of being totally self-unaware, and the touchstone for being uncontrolled, discourteous, and obnoxiously loud.
What’s the answer? If you’ve read this column for some time you know my ethic is based on the view that my dead spots will only be brought to life through the One who created me and offers redemption though Jesus Christ. Ultimately, the battles of this life are too big for me. I need a champion, and in God the son I’ve found the only champion whose promises will never fail.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.