Cross My Heart and Hope to Write


Monday, March 26, 2012

The Nature of a Promise

Well, well, well, it has been a while, hasn't it? Believe me, I have not neglected this precious medium of expression intentionally, oh no. Merely distracted.
Irregardless, I am here to post yet another entry. What will it be this time, you wonder: A poem, a photograph, perhaps a piece of art? No. Today I have but a blog entry and nothing more, not unlike the usual ones sweeping the interwebs. However, I believe it is a unique entry, for it concerns something dear and important in my eyes. 

What is the nature of a promise?

We all make them; little ones, big ones, silly ones, crazy ones. Some make more than others. They're common place, really. Yet, I rarely think we stop to consider the severity of such assertions. I think every common man or woman would attest to the existence of a certain twinge or pang at the utterance of a promise on their part. Of course, there are exceptions, but most recognize when they make a promise to someone, a certain degree of obligation and fettering comes standard with it. There is a tyranny to the promise.
When we promise to do or not do something, we are aware that we must, regardless of want, fear, or exception, abide by the conditions of that promise. If I say to you, "I promise to complete this blog entry," I am making a general assertion to fulfill the obligations set down by the promise, namely to complete this blog entry. I can make this promise with confidence because I am certain that I can complete this blog entry. That is the important thing about promises: They should be made only if they can be fulfilled. We can never assert with absolute certainly that we will or will not do something - I cannot know for certain that Blogspot will be shut down, the Internet will fail, or I may die a horrific death before the completion of this blog entry - but we can know if it is within our power to do or not do something before it is promised. I will not promise to literally place the world in a box (though perhaps metaphorically, if the metaphor is agreed upon or explained and understood by the parties involved) because it is not within my power to do so, though I certainly can make that promise.
Here too is another curious facet of promises: They can be made even if the obligations they put forth are impossible to meet. This is the treacherous business of promise making, for we cannot foresee the events that will unfold after it is made. I ask, which is a greater gamble? To make a promise that at the time of its utterance can be kept, but over the course of time is prevented from being fulfilled due to uncontrollable circumstances? Or to make a promise that at the time of its utterance can not be kept, but is allowed to be fulfilled over the course of time due to uncontrollable circumstances? Certainly, one can access their power before the promise is uttered simply by evaluating whether or not the promise is within one's ability. Only a fool would make a promise beyond his power, and fools certainly do. My challenge to you, than, is to decide for yourself, to stop, and sincerely consider before you make a promise, whether or not you can fulfill that promise.
Now this relationship between being able to make promises we can't keep and being certain we can keep a promise before making one seems kind of contradictory. Some might think, if I can make a promise so readily, why should I concern myself so pensively with the severity of a promise? If you consider the cultural representation of promises, there are dire consequences for their breaking when used in media and entertainment, as plot points in stories and screenplays. Ideally, culture places high stakes on promises, though they seem rather ambivalent. I have only used the example thus far of general promises; promises of the "I will or will not" kind. Promises of this kind place their burden solely on the one making the promise - whether or not they do (or can), the consequences fall on them. Unless of course one promises to do or not do unto another person something, whereupon they take the form of "I will or will not X unto Y". In such cases, fulfillment of the promise may impart onto the person (Y) the promise is focused its consequences, while unfulfilling has little to no affect. The exception to this would be if the person unto whom the promise is focused (Y) is concerned with the outcome of the promise. This, however, rests solely on the person (Y) and their indifference likewise does not affect the one making the promise.
Still, there is another form of the promise that is perhaps the most severe. Promises of the "I promise you (A) I will or will not X" are particularly important. In such cases, the fulfillment or unfulfillment of the promise affects both parties (I and A), though not necessarily equally. If one is more invested in a particular outcome of the promise (say, A), this one may be particularly damaged upon its completion or incompletion. That is the risk one takes upon making a promise of this kind, and why it is so important to recognize if it is within one's power to fulfill that promise. If you make a promise, recognize that you must keep it, and if you cannot, make it clear that it cannot be completed in the clearest way possible. If a promise is made to someone and is broken, the severity of that injustice may be multiplied inconceivably for the other party. Promises are not things that can be tossed around - they are absolute.
Then there is the issue of adding the terms "never" or "always" to the promise. Promises of always or never are incredibly dangerous and should be made minimally, for many promises of always are never cannot be fulfilled. To say, "I promise to always breath" is a promise that cannot be fulfilled, because we will all do and cease to breath. (The stipulation may be added, "I promise to always breath while I am alive" and is, however, one that can be fulfilled, but notice the clarity; ambiguity in promises is also a dangerous endeavor). Likewise, to say, "I will never make another mistake" is impossible to keep, because we all inevitably make mistakes. Again, clarity in the promise is crucial.  
Lastly, I believe there is one particular promise that reigns above all others: The promise of love. I believe society tends to categorize promises into vows and oaths, themselves perceived perhaps more severe than the promise. And yet, they themselves are promises, and therefore seem collapsible into the over-arching notion of a promise. Therefore, all promises are sacred, and none more sacred than the promise of love. Those that take the form, "I will always love you" or "I promise you, I will always love you" are supremely sacred, and should not be uttered unless one is absolutely certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, of its fulfillment. It is one of the few promises that can be kept without exception, beyond death, and therefore should be considered extra sensitively in regards to one's power to fulfill them.

Can you love someone forever, beyond time or circumstance, into infinity?                  

Think hardly on this.