Archive for the ‘Building Trust’ Category

Creating With Our Word

January 1, 2008

by David B. Wolf, Ph. D.
In the beginning was the word. Just as the supreme creates with his word, we too, as parts of the ultimate source, create our lives with our word. In the Vedic tradition there is a literature called Upadeshamrita, or The Nectar of Instruction. It is a short book, and concludes with a depiction of the most elevated spiritual consciousness. The initial sentence of The Nectar of Instruction describes the importance of controlling words, for anyone interested in spiritual progress.

Throughout the Satvatove programs we have opportunity to be aware of our relationship with our word, and its effect on our life and relationships. Whether or not you’ve participated in the Foundational Seminar, I ask the readers to go through a process similar to an exercise in that course. Bring to mind a time when someone made an agreement with you, and broke that agreement, and afterwards you saw the person face-to-face. Connect with this experience. Write down two or three words describing what this experience was like. Next, bring to mind a time when someone made a commitment to you, and kept it, and afterwards you saw the person, in-person. Again, connect with this experience, and on a separate list write what that felt like.

Now think of an example when you made an agreement with someone, and you broke it, and afterwards you saw that person, face-to-face. Connect inside, and write a few words describing that experience. Lastly, recall an instance when you made a commitment with someone and fulfilled it. What was that like? Write it down on a separate list.

Typically, the broken agreements lists include experiences and feelings such as hurt, embarrassment, anger, undependable, confused, unclear, devalued, and disappointed. In the agreements-kept column we characteristically find words such as trust, grateful, responsible, fulfilled, secure, clear, respected, and honored. The purpose here is not to moralize about the importance of keeping our promises. It’s simply about realizing how our relationship with our word affects our experience of life. When we violate our word, then, based on our experience, as evidenced by the lists we’ve generated, our confidence and trust in others tends to decrease, and feelings like resentment, distrust, and pain are predominant. And, when we honor our agreements, confidence and trust increases, and we tend to develop an experience and environment of appreciation, affection, and harmony.

Connected with this conversation about the results of our relation with our word, I’d like to offer that there aren’t big or small agreements. Consider, for example, that I say, “I’ll call you tomorrow,” and I don’t call you tomorrow. We may think, “Well, it’s no big deal.” With respect to our relationship, however, will the consequences from the broken agreements list manifest? Probably they will. Probably, at some level, your trust for me will diminish, and our relationship will feel less clean than before.

Certainly, we could think of instances where a person breaks his agreement, and the consequences discussed above perhaps will not be in effect. Suppose you’ve agreed to be somewhere at 9 AM. You stop on the side of the road and save someone’s life, and arrive at your appointment at 10 AM. Did you keep your agreement? No, though perhaps in this exceptional instance the unpleasant consequences usually attending violated commitments will not be in effect, because you served an even higher principle. I assert, though, that the vast majority of the times that we transgress our word, harmful effects materialize. Rarely are our “good stories” for not honoring our agreements actually “good stories”, in the sense that our justifications don’t negate the adverse, destructive experiences.

Many of us carry in our subconscious an equation that looks like:

Keeping Agreement =

Not Keeping Agreement

+

A Good Story

And this formula has corollaries, such as:

Being on Time =

Not Being on Time

+

A Good Story

It’s not that one side of the equation is always greater than the other. Above we cited an example – stopping on the side of the road to save a life – where the “good story” side may actually be weightier. We’re claiming that the equation isn’t an equality, though usually, more than 99% of the time, respecting our word will create an experience of life and relationship that is much more satisfying than breaching our promise.

To grow entails making challenging commitments and honoring them. If we’re not creating commitment in our life, it’s likely that we’re also not sufficiently stretching ourselves to expand our limits and possibilities. If we do give our agreement, we’ll probably find that, despite our best efforts, we sometimes don’t follow through. A strategy for handling broken agreements with integrity is also a valuable tool for spiritual transformation and restoring relationships.

A strategy we use in the Satvatove community is the “five As.” The five As are 1) acknowledge, 2) accept responsibility, 3) account, 4) apologize, and 5) amend.

“Acknowledge” means to recognize that we have a broken agreement, and to express this to the person whom we transgressed. We’re not justifying, or defending, or rationalizing that we haven’t broken a commitment. Acknowledgement also consists of empathically understanding the pain, disappointment, loss of trust, and other emotions we have caused by violating our word. Accepting responsibility, the second of the As, denotes realization that I responded in a particular way – or neglected to respond in a particular way – that caused me to not honor my word. I’m not playing the blame game; I’m accepting responsibility, and expressing that to the person to whom I broke a commitment. The third A is Account. Expression of accountability consists of genuinely explaining what happened. “Explanation” does not mean “defense,” or “excuse,” or “justification.” This truthful explanation may sometimes be rewarding, such as the example where we save a life at the expense of keeping our word. More often, though, our explanations may be unflattering, such as explaining, “I spaced-out about our appointment because I was watching television,” or “I paid a few bills instead of timely paying my debt.”

Apology is the fourth A, and it’s important to note that it’s fourth, not first. Oftentimes we act like apology is the first and only step in effectively handling a broken agreement. “I’m sorry” can be more about my need to look good, to restore my image, than about sincerely expressing remorse and reinstating the soundness of the relationship. Even more, we can imprudently use “I apologize” as implicit permission to do the same thing again. Without acknowledging what we’ve done, accepting responsibility and honestly accounting for it, apology can be hollow. Following the first three As, apology is a natural step in managing broken commitments. Amend is the fifth A, and consists of doing what we’re able to redress the situation. We may approach the other party for ideas for remedial action.

Through making and keeping agreements we grow and strengthen our relationships. Each of us can identify things we could do, things we should do, to better our lives. My proposal is that before we end our day today we each make a commitment, and keep it. It could be apparently large or small. The significant point is that by creating and fulfilling an agreement, we create a culture of trust, security and optimism.