“PROMISE” – IS IT JUST A WORD?

It is said, “PROMISE is a big word. It either makes something or breaks everything.”

Well, one of our Indian movies has intensified it to higher ground, “It is easier to win someone’s trust and it is more easier to break it. But TOUGH is, ‘to sustain that trust’.” 

In the mid of this year, I was invited to join a National Conference at Shillong in October. Wow, Shillong! Who gonna miss it! Of course, ‘YES’ I replied. But after a couple of months, I received my University exam time table and somehow a 3 days gap between a couple of my papers offered me a break. As opportunities costs, I was asked to pay for the cancellation of my one-way train ticket and buy an air ticket. Penny-pinching and after a week-long thought-through I convinced myself to block the deal. Finally the day dawn, as likely my plan, I took the second-half break from the office and went to write the paper. Soon after, I called a cab for the airport to take the evening flight for Guwahati after 2 hours and then en route to Shillong by road. But as always, “human plans greatly whereas he has no idea what’s going to happen in next hour”, exactly so my cab took the U-turn and was stranded in the traffic for an hour. By the time, my cab driver gets space to sneak out for another route (of course, only possible on Indian roads:)) to the airport, I crossed my check-in time. One side, I was cursing my driver and another side blaming God, “how can you be so rude to me? Being an Almighty God, can’t you somehow give me a free road?”  Exhaust and down emotion, I reached the airport 15 minutes late to the scheduled departure of my flight. But to my surprise, my flight was flying 40 minutes late, as I stepped into the airport, my flight touched the ground and was taxing towards the terminal. With ‘let’s try’ thinking, I went for boarding pass and asked the executive, ‘I know I’m late to board your aircraft but I come to know your aircraft to Guwahati is flying late. And he slapping me with his words said, Sir, you are late than our delayed flight, YOU CANNOT BOARD THE FLIGHT. On my second request, he said, let me try Sir if it works! Again to surprise he handover the boarding pass and said, Sir, run to terminal 19, the gate is about to open. Hold on, the story doesn’t end there, there’s something for life-risk as well. By the time I land, Guwahati was raining like cats and dogs. Still praying, I got a brand new cab to Shillong, hungry and tired around 11 P.M I asked the driver, Sir, how long it will take to Shillong and can we stop somewhere for dinner. He replied, sure sir, around 1AM we will reach the Dhaba but Sir we must pray that there should not be any landslide. The way it is raining, I’m sure there will be landslide somewhere. After an hour, that skillful driver was good enough to turn the steering just in a few inches away from landslide. At 3 AM, I reached Shillong but again surprising my host was out of reach and I was in a drug-paddlers locality. With a bit more struggle, I got the connection of my other contact and finally, I got shelter.

Yes, as you think, my parents suggested me to cancel the trip and in fact, while facing each of the challenges I thought to withdraw from my “YES” to the conference organizers. But each time, one verse from the Bible went strong enough to convince me –

Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ 

Anything more comes from the evil one.

Promises are always made at the present time and mostly it is made about its future implications but the uncertainty of the future always appears as a challenge. As the future becomes present, at the most time it enfolds an awful lot of challenges. Logically, promises might be expressed with the help of word-formation but it isn’t just a word. The sustainability of our promise words shapes our identity – our character – our strengths – our understanding and majorly the other person’s TRUST. 

The well-known and well-uttered flamboyant phrase of our time is, “Heaven and earth may pass by but I will be with you at all times. You were meant for me”. But alas, since we tend to jettison our primary promises in most of our affairs we are experiencing more shattered relationships rather than the previous decades put together. Ironically, the British author Dr. John R. W Stott in one of his book on civilized society and its problems with morals and civility said,

“Many of the happenings of our civilized society would not exist if it were not for human sin. A promise is not enough, we need a contract. Doors are not enough, we need to lock and bolt them. The payments of fairs are not enough, we need to be with tickets that are punched, inspected and collected. Laws are not enough, we need the Police to enforce them. All these things and many others to which we have grown as a custom than we have taken them for granted are due to our sin. WE CANNOT TRUST EACH OTHER, WE NEED PROTECTION FROM ONE ANOTHER. It is a sorry state of affairs.”

YOUR WORD DEFINES ‘YOU’ !

And that auto guy was waiting for me at the auto stand even though I was almost 45 minutes late and he handed out Rs. 20/- towards me and said “Madam, yesterday’s change!” The day before I had a little quarrel with him over change and he offered to pay me the next day at the same time. I take the same route everyday so I told him that I would wait for him the next day at the same place. And later I totally forgot and came about 45 mins late. The auto guy was waiting for me to give me Rs. 20/- that he owed me. I never expected to see him again, I was pretty sure that he won’t show up – but he did.

In my eyes, that auto guy might have been an illiterate but definitely had high standards of integrity. He did what he promised, even though he had no stakes in the situation. How many of us really do that?

Integrity! How do I define it? It is very simple. “Do what you say and say what you do”


“I would complete the implementation of this web page by end of today”

“I will send you the report by Monday”

“I promise we will go for a picnic with kids this Saturday”

“We will go for a romantic date this weekend”

“We will catch up for coffee on coming Thursday”

“I will definitely go to the gym from Monday”

These are some of the examples we hear all the time and all of them (might have been said casually) do offer some amount of commitment to other person or to oneself. And mostly such commitments made casually are either forgotten or thrown off the priority list in no time. When we get into a habit of doing this over and over for years together, it becomes a habit. It becomes “Ok” to break promises and disappoint people. Even people around stop getting disappointed because they wouldn’t trust your promises anymore; we end up having a very loose relationship with our commitments.


“Humne aapko apni zubaan di hai” (I have given you my word) – This is a very common dialog of old Bollywood movies. In such a dialog, the promises are meant to be kept. Their word is their self-respect. If they do not fulfil their words (promises), they are considered less of a man (human-being). That is the kind of relationship that one should have with your word.

Your word defines you. If each one of us really take a pledge to strive to mean and fulfil every word that we say – we would end up watching our words a lot more. We would not make promises that we know are not meant to be kept. We would not say things casually. We would define our actions more appropriately.


I get utterly frustrated at work when people don’t turn up at the right time for the meetings. I get irritated to the core when somebody doesn’t respect my time. Punctuality is one of the key aspects of Integrity. It is not about just being punctual but it is about respecting time – your own and that of the others. Fortunately, our generation is blessed with super technology that lets us be connected 24/7 in a million different ways. It is not difficult to pass on information today, yet many of us just take it for granted. It is “chalta hai” to be 10 min late. It is “ok” to not deliver projects on time. It is “not a big deal” if I missed out gym for another month. It is “fine” to not spend time with your kids in spite of promising them.

I have been associated with 2 MNCs in my work life. One of them was an American company and other one is Dutch company. So, I have worked with Americans, Russians, Chinese, Europeans, British etc. And almost all of those people have a negative image of Indians with respect to integrity. They believe through their experience that Indians are not as professional. There are exceptions of course but a general perception of Indians is so.

What can we do to turn this perception around? What can we do to make sure that we are trusted and respected.  I would suggest – start small. Take baby steps. Start watching your words and commitments and make out plans to fulfil all of them. Some of the key steps that you can take today to ensure a step towards increasing your “Integrity”

  • Be on Time where ever you are supposed to be. This is not easy – in today’s tight schedule, even with the right intention we end up being late for something or the other.
  • If you cannot reach on time, make sure to inform the concerned person about it.
  • Hold others accountable if they do not respect your time
  • Do not make casual promises. Make sure of what you are saying in “friendly” note does not imply a commitment from your side.
  • If you feel that the person you are talking to has not understood you correctly, do not leave ground for misunderstandings to grow.
  • Keep your commitments whether it is a promise to yourself to hit gym daily or a project completion date to your boss. A promise is a promise and is never meant to be broken.
  • Learn to say “NO”, so that you keep your commitments to a realistic number which can be met.
  • If you could not keep your commitment, find the root cause behind it. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Fix it and learn from it.
  • Learn to apologise for not keeping your promise and mean that apology. If you do not improve next time – it would be a failure.

It is easy to write about being a person with high integrity but too difficult to follow. I struggle with it all the time, but I always strive to keep it high at all times. Sometimes, it is way too demanding for me to be my Word always – in such situations, I take a sabbatical for a day or two. I inform people around me about this and keep my commitments close to zero during this sabbatical. It is difficult and extremely strenuous at times. But the more you try, the better you get. And you gain much invaluable trust and respect from people around you which is the biggest reward for me. 

Who you are is your word and your word is your integrity. So, do not compromise on it!