I say I promise when I know that I can’t make it to your birthday party, or to your brother’s graduation ceremony – But is it really my fault that I don’t know what it means to actually make a promise? I honestly believe that it’s my parents’ fault, since they promised to buy me that Street Fighter II game when I was 8; and they didn’t – But is it really their fault that they don’t know what it means to actually make a promise?
We live in a society where you can’t say no or give an excuse in so many situations, and the best you can do to get out of those situations is to accept the offer, and promise to act upon it. However, keeping a promise isn’t an issue, because the norm enables you not to conform to the definition of the word. Therefore, there weren’t any hard feelings when I didn’t attend that graduation ceremony.
I think the problem might be with the definition of the word in our books and dictionaries. Changing it would disentangle this regular contradiction in our lives, and the only way to do so is to travel in time to the 15th century and explain to the first users of the word that their definition does not really make sense in few hundred years time. My guess is; they will change it for us.
But wait, what if promise-making is only the tip of the iceberg? I think it is, since so many other words have lost their meanings. ‘Death’, ‘injury’, ‘killing’ and words of the same caliber have become ordinary things, usual habitants of our news columns that we stopped flinching at a while ago, as if they no longer hold the same meaning written in the books.
The first thing I took note of while interning at WYA is that everything we do or set for ourselves, like rights or laws, is based on a foundation, with fundamentals that enable us to nurture those ideas and build on them. So the contradictory nature of words like ‘promise’ and many others did not just come out of the blue, instead it was cultivated by our culture and societies that accept and normalize such absurdities. In the “The Abolition of Man”, C.S Lewis criticizes modern attempts to discredit natural values. He talks about how few people understand the loss of this objective value; thus they control the majority of people while using their own values for debunking the rest. The controlled however, are robot-like, following without questioning. For that, I blame people for their definition of people. For perceiving ourselves as numbers instead of souls and emotions. For accepting our differences while neglecting what makes us the same. For denying our dignity as human beings.
I can do what my parents did and make false promises whenever I want my children to stop nagging; and their experience of the world will teach them how to act and react to it, and they will probably use the same technique to teach their children about promises. Allowing words to lose value, and humans to lose worth, will only continue the vicious cycle of lying about what it truly means to make and uphold a promise.