By Nabila Z
Most of us, we never really intend to break a promise when we make one. That’s why it is a promise in the first place; a confirmation to someone of a future action we pledge to do. A verbal guarantee. As children, we grow up learning about keeping promises from our parents, teachers and the children’s books with their moral stories that mold our instincts to believe breaking a promise is morally wrong. Now, as human beings we are prone to making mistakes in every department known to man so it is of no surprise when we find that yourself and I have most probably broken promises for which we can in all likelihood come up with a string of legitimate excuses. We try our best not to break promises. But when I see this happening more often than it should, particularly beyond the boundaries of just another fellow human being but between individuals who enjoy a close and loving relationship (whether they be friends or family for example), I question: are we trying hard enough?
So many promises that we say were never kept were never actually made. The trouble is that words slip off so easily like water from the tips of our tongues. We tell our siblings that we’ll definitely get back to them about that math homework question they’re stuck on, or our friends that we’ll go to see them and check up on them because they’re suffering from the flu, or maybe one of our parents whom we promised to pick up their package from the post office. Now, some may say that before I even go down that road, these are trivial matters and that no one really minds or cares if these are not fulfilled. At the end of the day, the other person knows deep down inside that we care about them and love them, and sure enough we really do. However, we need to see that the phrase ‘I promise’ need not even surface; the fact that we have said it implies to the other person that we intend to do it. If someone said something of the like to you, you would certainly have a degree of expectation for him or her to do it no matter how trivial it may be – particularly if this is someone you know, you trust.
Let us swap shoes. Going back to the homework scenario, your younger sibling has asked you for help because they look up to you and see you as someone worthy from whom they could receive assistance. You’re really busy with something important but you want to help so you offer to help a bit later, and their face lights up. Your sibling says that’s fine and they are happy to wait. And they keep waiting. Perhaps they ask you a few more times and still you are busy. To them you are a loved one and they will not want to bother you anymore. What’s more is that because you hold that special position in their hearts, they would think that you would have made that extra effort anyway – this is only natural in humans. Sooner or later, that hope they had put in you and your ‘promise’ begins to fade away and turns into disappointment. They return their homework to the teacher with that question unanswered. And you still haven’t remembered to help them, but of course once you do, you feel guilty and apologize to them. Trivial? Perhaps. Because everything is okay again, you still love your sibling and they love you back, it was just a math question. But this person still felt pain, and believe me no matter how miniscule a scale it was, they did. Because it is so easy and common for us to say things we would do but never assign the importance of fulfilling them within us, we end up doing this over and over again. So we end up hurting the people we love time after time.
The art of keeping a promise is intertwined with trustworthiness. So one would expect a person they deemed to be trustworthy or have trust in, to keep their promise. When you do not keep your words, the other party loses an ounce of trust in you and this keeps on happening until they no longer trust you to be able to ask you for help or even have faith in the words you speak. The tiniest of our actions can lead to repercussions we would never contemplate. Fulfilling a promise is a huge obligation upon us as Muslims (as most of us know already) – but sometimes it’s the little things that miss our eyes.
When you make a promise, you plant a little seed of hope and expectation in the hearts of the people you love. Think again next time before you say you will do something for them, and try to make that little extra effort their way and fulfill your promise without delaying it. I say this to myself before anyone else, as it would sadden me deeply if my sibling no longer came to me for help knowing they have no remaining faith in me. We are defined by our actions, not our words.
“Oh you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do? Most hateful it is in the sight of Allah that you say that which you do not do” (Qur’an 61:2-3).