The Greater Betrayal
My word is my bond. It’s an expression we seldom hear these days; it’s reminiscent of a time long ago when it was more common to take a person at their word. It seems harder now to trust people. After pondering why, my suspicion is that it has to do with our inability to trust ourselves. It is a lack of self-trust that renders us unable to trust others.
When we neglect the stirrings of our own heart to avoid the disapproval of others; when we put ourselves consistently in our pocket for fear that what we desire, or how we really feel, will disappoint others, we are creating a whirlwind of internal unrest. Soon we become unable to tell the truth even to ourselves. We become estranged from who we really are. We literally become a stranger to ourselves, and often become depressed, which is essentially anger turned inward and without the enthusiasm.
When we don’t trust people with the truth, we are telling those we love what Jack Nicholson’s character said to Tom Cruise’s character in the movie, “A Few Good Men.” We are telling them, “You can’t handle the truth.” What message does that give people? How can there be trust without truth?
Yet we’re all guilty of it to one degree or another. We all withhold…..if even just a little.
On the surface, being a person of integrity seems to go hand in hand with being honest, yet a person of integrity, if they are being honest, will sometimes not be able to keep their word. That’s a fact of life. Admittedly, it can be inconvenient or even hurtful when someone breaks their word to us, when they fail to keep faith with an agreement we’ve made, from something as simple as meeting for lunch, to something as serious as renegotiating the terms of an intimate relationship.
Life is uncertain, and even with the best intentions, if we live wide, open and full lives, breaking our word will sometimes be necessary because change is inevitable. Part of building supportive and sustaining bonds of trust is being open to the possibility that, with the passage of time, agreements or arrangements may need to be reworked, revamped, renegotiated. I used to be a slave to sticking with the original plan. I would feel let down or disappointed if someone backed out the last minute, or if for whatever reason we were unable to do what was originally on the map. If I were the one who created the need for a change in plans, I would feel awful or irresponsible. But I have learned how much easier life is when we can simply go to Plan B, and without guilt or recriminations. I have even been known to go to Plan C and D, and happily too.
I think more heartache has been caused by a failure to be honest, than by speaking the truth, whatever it is. In the name of thinking we are protecting someone by not acknowledging that something has changed, we do them and ourselves an injustice. We are so frightened by the possible consequences of being our authentic selves in every moment that we start to ignore those inner stirrings altogether, or we fail to share what truly matters with those we care about; sadly, when we do that, the blanket of our integrity begins to unravel. So, in all honesty, a person of true integrity is someone you can count on to level with you in the moment. What you see is what you get. You don’t have to second guess them, because you can trust that if there has been a change in what is possible or how they feel, they will simply tell you.
We also betray ourselves when we maintain, against all internal evidence to the contrary, that we want what everyone else wants, or what everyone else says we should want. (We really have to stop “shoulding” on ourselves!) We betray ourselves because being different or initiating change is sometimes frightening. But if we don’t meet the truth head on, it will eventually find us anyway, and by then we are likely to be disillusioned at least, and, at worst, broken—and wondering why.
I am not encouraging, let alone advocating, breaking our word lightly, in a cavalier manner – not at all. I do believe, nonetheless, that we must be honest with ourselves in determining when and where we may have to break a promise in order to remain true to ourselves. Sometimes it’s a matter of what is at stake. Not keeping our word just because it suddenly seems inconvenient is not good for our soul and will not make our way in the world pleasant. When the thing we promised to do is vitally important to the other person, and it does not go against our spirit, it is a small sacrifice to keep our word even if we are exhausted and it will really tax us. However, if keeping our word is to be done only at the expense of surrendering a piece of our soul, we must give ourselves permission to reconsider.