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Not Keeping Promises

Not Keeping Promises

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Dear Rachel,

I am a person who tries very hard to keep her word and be punctual. But I am constantly aggravated, frustrated and inconvenienced by people who don’t keep appointments, show up on time, pay on time or keep their promises. I feel so hurt and disappointed that these people don’t seem to respect me or my time. Please help me find a solution!

What’s the Good Word

Dear What’s the Good Word,

I hear you. It can be very aggravating when people are inconsiderate and don’t understand how that affects us.

The Torah mandates that we keep our word. It also tells us not to take a vow lightly. In Exodus 23:7 we are told, “Distance yourself from a false word,” which means that we have to be very careful that It can be very aggravating when people are inconsiderateour words are not only true, but also don’t contain a trace of falsehood. As King David says, “I hate every path of falsehood.”1 Many have the custom to say bli neder (without a vow) or “b’ezrat Hashem (with G‑d’s help) when making a promise, because ultimately it’s up to G‑d whether our plans work out or not.

In Judaism, there are only very limited circumstances in which one is permitted to lie for the sake of peace. (As in, “Doesn’t my wife look gorgeous?” “Oh, yes, lovely!”) But what you’re talking about doesn’t fall into that category. On the contrary, these untruths are causing conflict and eroding the trust in your relationships.

Judaism also values every moment of life. If it comes down to it, one is permitted to transgress every law in the Torah, except three cardinal ones, in order to prolong someone’s life for even one minute. Since every moment is precious, G‑d doesn’t want you to waste your time, and certainly not that of someone else.

That said, we can’t control other people. We can control only ourselves. So, let me offer you a few suggestions of how to deal with these recurring situations:

  • Be exemplary. If you are always on time and keep your word, people will be more likely to follow your example. Make it your special mitzvah to live your life with total integrity.
  • Be forgiving. People may have the best intentions, but sometimes things do come up. Acts of G‑d don’t refer only to tornadoes and hurricanes; a traffic jam is also an act of G‑d.
  • A traffic jam is also an act of G‑d
  • Protect yourself. If a person disappoints you multiple times, you may be training him or her to treat you that way. So, as much as possible, avoid people who are bound to let you down. Choose whom you want to deal with and how you want to interact with them.
  • Be realistic. If a relationship or partnership is too valuable to give up, be realistic about what to expect. If a friend constantly lets you down, don’t expect next time to be different; take any promise with a grain of salt. But if you want to maintain the relationship, don’t harp on the person’s failures, and create contingency plans in case promises don’t materialize.
  • Adopt coping strategies. If a person is pathologically late and often keeps you waiting for half an hour, bring something to do while you wait, or don’t rush to be on time.
  • Be honest and straightforward. Explain to the other person the extent to which his or her behavior bothers you, and lay down some consequences if the behavior continues. Then make sure to follow through with your consequences, if necessary. Perhaps you could offer a kind of exchange: you’ll make an effort to improve in one area if the other person works on this area.

Since the Torah cautions us to distance ourselves from falsehood, it is up to us to make sure that we are in situations and relationships with people who honor that precept as well. So, while I would advise you to be a bit more tolerant of friends who tend to be 10 minutes late, people who perpetually don’t keep their word should be kept at arm’s length. People who don’t keep their word will often prevent you from keeping yours.

You mention feeling hurt and disrespected, which makes me feel that you take this flaw in others very personally. For the most part, when people don’t live up to their word, it’s a reflection of some weakness in them, not you. It’s their inability to plan their time wisely, their tendency to get When people don’t live up to their word, it’s a reflection of some weakness in them, not youdistracted, or their fear of saying no. So, try not to take their actions personally, or ascribe meanings that aren’t necessarily true. You are, after all, the master of your own happiness, so you can choose to give people the benefit of the doubt and interpret their actions in the best possible light.

There’s one final point I want to make, which in no way contradicts everything I’ve said until now. We live in extremely stressful times, with tremendous demands on every moment of our lives. This stress can compromise our physical and mental health. So, while we have to be mindful of wasting time, there’s a benefit to being more easygoing. Sometimes, someone who is late or does not keep commitments is not inconsiderate, but rather has a more relaxed and easygoing personality. A person’s pace is very much an inborn characteristic, and while we appreciate others trying to keep step with us, it’s not a bad idea to sometimes just go with the flow and march to the other person’s drummer.

May your time always be well and contentedly spent!

All the best,
Rachel

Footnotes
Rosally Saltsman is a freelance writer originally from Montreal living in Israel.
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Anonymous AZORES April 9, 2016

Not keeping promises? Get fired! I constantly keep on firing workers and employees who do not keep their word and promises and some of them can not understand why even that I told them many times, they keep on repeating they will and they never do. Then they get fired and I am not waiting for a third time. The place is full of unemployed and poor people who do not make even $500 per month yet they keep on saying they need the money but don't do much to get it right. Reply

miklos halasz sweden June 18, 2014

was realy good advice liked them thanks Reply

Lisa Providence, RI February 7, 2014

People Not Keeping Promises You have to let these people know that not keeping promises makes you feel you can't trust them, and that it's inconsiderate. If they don't care, stop talking to them.

Some people simply can't understand that concept, and you wonder how they're able to keep a job! Reply

Rosally Saltsman January 29, 2014

Thank you! I read all reader comments and appreciate them. Reply

Anonymous January 29, 2014

a game Its a game..a game like..

you hurt me..I hurt you..
We both hurt so needlessly
But I cant let go..
I love you
Thats all I know.

Author Abe Garfunkel from one of his songs Reply

Karla São Paulo, Brazil January 28, 2014

Mrs. Saltsman, Great and WISE counsel. Congratulations. Reply

Jack Midland Park January 24, 2014

Not keeping promises Avoid these people as much as possible. Negative people are not healthy for anyone. Reply

deby brooklyn January 23, 2014

well.... its funny- i just got home after my friend told me she wouldnt do something she promised me and ive been relying on her since the summer.
thanks Reply

shlomo vancouver. canada January 23, 2014

I am one of these people that likes to be on time and always keeps my word.
yes, I get frustrated when a friend or relative is late or does not keep a promise.
my wife is much wiser. she does not get frustrated when her nephew is always late for dinner or an for outings

Rachel is right. I shall follow her advise. Reply

Aaron London January 23, 2014

Promises I pride myself with being punctual and in fact early for any appointment, bad timekeeping irritates me when the person whom I am meeting arrives late and gives a half hearted apology. When I first made aliyah it was an experience which I will never forget, nobody seemed to care how late they turned up for a meeting, in fact they seemed to thrive on it. My question is imagine if the Children of Israel had arrived late for the Red sea crossing or at the start of the six day war our pilots arrived late for their first mission because it was the done thing to arrive whenever they felt like it, where would we be now as a nation......the thought is frightening Reply

Andy Strowman England. January 23, 2014

People I am reminded of the wonderful story told to me when I was a littler boy by the greatest woman I ever met in my life. Her name was Byla Kahn. She was from Poland.
I dedicate this story to her memory. She translated Shakespeare into Yiddidh and was best friends with my Baba Over Shalom.

Here it is ,..the story is over 200 years old.

"An old man was walking along a country path. It was a beautiful Summer's day. He was carrying a candle in in one hand and a feather in the other..
His back was bent and walking slowly.
The Mayor of the District came by ona horse and stopped atrange sight. Question himself why this old man should be doing this.
Finally, he called. " Good morning . What are you doing? "
The old man looked up. He replied, " I am looking for a honest man." Reply

Anonymous Seattle January 22, 2014

I am a retired teacher. I arrived a few minutes late virtually every day of my teaching career. I had one principal who stood outside the school with his arms crossed scowling at me as I arrived. My yearly ratings suffered from this.
For most of my life I suffered from insomnia. If I knew I had to get up early, I could not sleep. I could not get up early enough to get out on time. I'd leave home in a panic and drive like a maniac.
I worked with students lunchtime and I'd stay late after school. I'd work with kids far beyond a school day. But as far as admin was concerned I was insubordinate and I'd get an average rating, though my students knew I was doing a superior job. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 22, 2014

of Vows and Promises Maybe we're all, a little tardy at times, and maybe it's OK to loosen up a little and be a little less compulsive. It's hard when that feels like it's your nature. I know I generally get to places way ahead of time, and do take promises very seriously. My husband is very loose about time commitments, and in fact, needs to finish up with a dentist appointment for a tooth. I am embarrassed he never got back to the dentist and I had to hear about this. I learned to pick my battles but I still do get irritated. And then, there's G_d promising a Messianic future and it's taking a long time to actualize, in our time frame. And we get a little impatient. But I believe Divine Promises are kept and I believe a truly important promise made by another is their responsibility. If they fall down, well, we all fall down. And then, humility in realizing this, is key, and maybe, asking forgiveness. So I forgive G_d for taking so long, so long. Reply

Angela Hoffberg Richland, MS January 22, 2014

Little Tolerance I also have little tolerant for those not keeping their words: being late, etc. A person's words should be enough. Words should not have to be strengthened by vows, oaths, promises, or swearing. The best we can do is bring forth what is within us and tell the other person how we feel about dishonesty (even though they might not see it this way) . Hopefully we can gently guide them onto the right path. Or maybe their souls do this because they have to go through certain things before overcoming. Reply

Anonymous Bradenton via chabadofbradenton.com January 21, 2014

Untruths "Be realistic. If a relationship or partnership is too valuable to give up, be realistic about what to expect. If a friend constantly lets you down, don’t expect next time to be different; take any promise with a grain of salt. But if you want to maintain the relationship, don’t harp on the person’s failures, and create contingency plans in case promises don’t materialize."
What happens when you do create "contingency plans" and are then accused of not trusting, blamed for the other party's indiscretions ("I did it because of you") and then starts telling other parties about these things? Reply

Joseph Solomon Orlando, FL. January 21, 2014

Congratulations On Being A Phenomenal You Great response to a common problem. We live in a world were sometimes we have to manage our lives according to the personalities and whims of others. In doing so it can become frustrating and discouraging when it is not reciprocated and we ourselves are maintaining the type of integrity and considerations for others the Torah has commanded us to have. I commend you on being you, on being honorable to those even when they are not bein honorable to you. I want to add that I don't personal believe that it's ever okay to lie even to spare the feelings of others. I believe telling the truth is a skill like any other skill that when mastered has a way of finding honest and sincere means of conveying truth or letting others down without being insensitive or cruel and without compromising personal integrity. We must stay far away from a false word even when, in compassion, it would be so much easier to do so. This is what makes life difficult, makes the reward of doing mitzvot so much greater. Reply

Hadassah North Miami Beach January 21, 2014

wonderful answer I really like your answer, you validate the questioner's viewpoint while enabling them to look beyond their own viewpoint and be "dan L'kaf zechus" give the other person the benefit of the doubt. We can never see the whole picture from one perspective. Reply

Anonymous January 21, 2014

Punctuality People who are purposely or indifferently late are arrogant; they believe their time is more important than the other person's time. They are stealing something -time- that can never be replaced. You suggest enabling this behavior. Reply

Anonymous Wisconsin January 21, 2014

don't take it personally I am one of those perpetually late people and it has nothing to do with disrespect of others, it is my lack of training as a child manifesting itself in adulthood. Not to blame it all on the past, as an adult it is one of my areas of self-improvement to work on, but it extends not only to being late but to a disorganized life as a whole. So rather than think these people lack respect for you, try to see that their life might not be a picnic either. A persons life is framed and formed by age 7. If you happen to have parents who wouldn't or couldn't raise you properly, you then struggle to fit into a world you are not prepared for. So many things happen and each person is sooo different from the next that it is impossible to tell what is really going on with the next person. Until you have been in their shoes.....
Take Rachel's great advice and don't take it personally. That seemingly rude person may have a "row to hoe" that you wouldn't want. Reply

Anonymous Nashville TN January 20, 2014

this is so true, ive always lived this way and it takes so much unnecessary stress out of your life...these days theres so much that can cause undo stress and this is something you can control...i am a firm believer in " no one can make u feel any way you dont want to feel" i have a lot of health problems that dont need stress by another person..you must be strong and love yourself by setting down what is acceptableor not. many people will take advantage of your kindness if they know you allow it .. B"H for your insight and guidance Reply

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