Should You Break Promises?

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In politics people don’t always keep their Pest Control. In the 2010 election to the House of Commons, all the Liberal Democrat Party candidates took a pledge to oppose any increase in university tuition fees and to campaign for their abolition. However, after forming a coalition government with the Conservatives, 21 of 57 Liberal Democrat MPs voted to increase the fees.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama pledged repeatedly during the 2008 election to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, but the prison remained open throughout the entirety of his Presidency. I suspect most of us recognize that election promises have to be afterwards shaped by expediency and compromise.

But what about the critical promises we make in our lives? Those made to people we know about all kinds of matters. Is it okay to break our own promises?

Contractual promises
The law doesn’t always enforce promises. There’s no simple way of you demonstrating in law that you have been gazumped when I signed nothing.

However, typically a person, who’s in breach of contract, is liable to compensate another party. The fear of having to pay out a lot money may make one keep one’s agreement.

But non-legal promises may also be difficult to escape from. Who wants to be seen as unreliable for not keeping their word? A reputation as an honest person is easily lost and hard to regain. The world is quick to judge.

Pragmatic considerations
The question about breaking or keeping one’s guarantees usually relates to non-contracted promises. What is the significance for others and yourself and the circumstances in which one believes breaking them?

In his book How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, Iain King indicates that promises should be kept’unless they are worth less to others than a new choice is to you.’ He reckons this requires a relevant, unforeseen and reasonably unforeseeable change in the circumstance. A change that’s judged to be more important than the guarantee itself. Rash promises made in a state of excitement or on in the impulse of the moment are an obvious case in point. On the other hand, some of us are experts in self-justification to suit our desires. Deciding the rights and wrongs about changing one’s mind is probably often quite complex. What higher principles might help our decision making?

Implicit promises
We do not believe our social duties as promises since they’re not ordinarily spelt out. For instance, most people probably feel that a strong debt to our parents and duty to our children. Many feel a responsibility to support their preferred charitable body.

We may change in our sense of patriotic ties into our nation. However, people normally have some degree of commitment towards people they work, live and play with.

In his book The Spirit of the World, philosopher Roger Scruton has pointed out that several of the relations which are most important to us involve a kind of unconditional giving to another person. In other words, we behave as if we’ve made a promise to do good for people we know. And to do this not based on what we can necessarily get out of it. This implicit guarantee varies in strength based on how close we are to the person. We’ll want to think twice before breaking it. It helps protect society against the forces of selfish desire.

Oaths and vows as promises
Courts of justice expect special honesty from individuals giving testimony. Traditionally, what is sacred is linked to the idea of God. For many people today, what’s sacred might be the principle or believer of say the life force in nature, virtue, compassion, truth, or beauty. In providing an oath, we call upon some thing sacred to bear witness to what we are saying to demonstrate our sincerity.

Compared to an oath, when making a vow we’re making our guarantee to and thus directly addressing some entity that we venerate. So, there is now a heightened commitment and danger of betrayal if we do not keep our promise.

“All I did was pray to God, every day. In prison camp, the most important prayer was,’Get me home alive, God, and I will seek you and serve you.’ I came home, got wrapped up in the party, and forgot about the countless promises I’d made to God.”

Folks make what they consider as other sacred vows e.g. to uphold justice, defend their nation, and a few make vows of poverty, chastity or abstinence from alcohol. Breaking solemnly made promises of this sort might have enormous consequences for one’s sense of honor and well-being.

Marriage vows
In our secular times in Britain, 50% of marriages fail. Prospective partners are wary of entering into a commitment for life which could end up this way. And so, marriage vows have been beginning to fall out of fashion. Instead prenuptual agreements are starting to emerge. You may re-negotiate such a contract. One might wonder if a society no longer insists on the vows of marriage, does this offer less security to the children of these relationships?

Conclusion about promises
The rights and wrongs of breaking a promise seems to me to hang on our motivation. Would breaking a promise to somebody make good sense in the longer term, be in keeping with personal integrity or fulfill a higher need? Or would it merely meet the requirements of the moment, ruin a trusting relationship, or be self-serving?

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