Underpromise, Overdeliver

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Matthew 5:33-37

This passage is as simple as it gets. Words mean things. When we use them casually to promise things, people take them to heart.

Recently I told my 6-year-old niece I would come visit her the next day. Work crowded in and I wasn’t able to show up that day. She was clearly disappointed that I didn’t make it. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was something I had said I would do but didn’t.

I can think of dozens of similar situations. Likewise, I can think of those situations where someone else promised something casually but never made good on the promise. I recall the disappointment I felt as well.

I recall a phrase in the American lexicon that has not been used much anymore: “he’s as good as his word.” People used to strike large business deals with the shake of a hand and not 100 pages of legalese. We’ll never go back to that as a society as long as lawsuits prevail, but we can certainly put the principle to work on a one-to-one basis.

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