A Man of His Word

“Poppy is a man of his word.” I paused and looked at Cooper. He was talking to his sister but looking at me. I asked, “What does it mean to be a man of your word?” “It means you do what you say you’re going to do,” he replied. Not bad for a six year old.

Understand, the context for the exchange above centered on me telling our grandchildren “no” to watching a movie until a bit later. He was reminding his sister that Poppy meant “no” for now but would follow through and he was confirming that I was on board. it was subtle, masterful, and completely innocent. It also stopped me in my tracks as I considered how my casual promise was not casual to his little heart and mind.

We tend to be so casual with our words. Both the words we speak and the promises we make. Consider the word “casual.” It suggests easy, convenient, informal. A casual promise could be construed as being halfhearted, not fully intentioned, not full considered, and subject to change. We make them all the time: “I’ll call to set something up.” “I’ll do that when I’ve got time.” “I’ll get back to you.” “Not now, maybe later.”

Of course, the thing about “casual” is that it typically is casual to one party and not the other. Particularly when it comes to children. When a six year old describes you as a “man of your word” it is compliment and conviction. When was I halfhearted with my “word?” When did I tell him I would do something and I didn’t follow through? When did I say something that I really didn’t mean? It is a cautionary reminder of the importance of our words.

Do we mean what we say? To give our “word” is to make a promise. What about when we don’t explicitly “promise?” We tend to allow ourselves latitude for those “words” that we give more casually, justifying our halfheartedness by saying “I didn’t promise” or “I didn’t commit” or “I was just kidding.” This is a “no harm, no foul” policy of hiding in the nuances of language until it isn’t, becoming damaging when we knowingly or unknowingly allow another to believe otherwise.

The words we speak are powerful and creative. The explicit promise of our “word” is a clear commitment, but what about other words we share? If being a “man of your word” equals meaning what you say, how often do we qualify?

Talk is cheap and words are plentiful. In a world jaded by sales pitches, marketing messages, and persistent emotional manipulation, have our words lost their value? Has “giving” our word been rendered meaningless by the insincerity behind the words we use? To a six year old, the words we use are a promise…even if we don’t call them that. To young Cooper, those words are a commitment, an intention to manifest the future. The words are powerful in that they state the fact, the belief, the heart, or the hope, of the matter. They carry weight whether we intend it or not.

One might argue that part of “growing up” is learning to deal with half-truths, insincerity, and the fantasy, sitting behind the words of so many. Fair enough. We all need to be prepared for the reality of humanity and the hidden drivers of the words falling upon us. Reader/listener beware. But Cooper, your sister, your co-worker, your client, or your friend at church, aren’t concerned with the broad swath of human insincerity when they are listening to the words you share. Your word matters. Your words matter.

This week, spend some time thinking about the words floating around in your life. Look first at yourself. Are you a man or woman of your word? Are you doing what you said you would do? Are you showing up, keeping promises, and living up to the words you’ve put into the world? Then look around. Who is doing what they said they would do? Who isn’t?

Our words are incredibly valuable. Be a person of your word.

Showing 6 comments
  • Jessica VanNatta

    I truly love this. What a compliment from Cooper and how amazing that he confidently shared that with his sister to comfort her worries. Many notable qualities from him and you can be construed in this story. Above all that your actions have caused him to trust you. Ultimately, that is the truth. Words and actions are required for trust to be inherited. Many times words don’t match actions and therefore, trust is broken and a half relationship is developed. The whole person will never be revealed when you lose their trust and what a detriment to society when people can’t be fully themselves. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dave Worland

    Wonderful post. So true!

  • John Harrison

    Phil, it is a good reminder to be careful with our words.

  • Chris Kaufman

    Well done Phil! I think there is a strong link to doing what you say with the character of the person. Wonderful work my friend.

  • Jill Spohn

    Well said!❤️

  • Frederick W McClaine

    From the mouth of “babes” the truth never rings more clear, thanks for the reminder!

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