When promises break

We’ll never talk behind one another’s backs
We’ll take our concerns directly to the people who concern us
We’ll always give feedback with care

When you have made agreements about behaviour in your team, in your organisation, in your family, it’s unhelpful – and unrealistic – to expect them to always be upheld. Such expectations, in the face of the many breaches and breakdowns that will occur, can quickly lead you and others to assume your agreements were meaningless and insincere. And from such a position comes despair and cynicism – nothing can ever change around here. In such a light, our promises soon come to mean nothing.

Far more powerful is to treat the original agreements as sincere and genuine, but inevitably in conflict with other equally sincere competing commitments which we all hold, for example our commitment

to not feel ashamed
to look and feel supportive to others in their difficulty
to be liked and respected
to be helpful to the person who’s with us right now

In the light of this, you can use your own and others’ inevitable breaches not as an source of resignation but as an opportunity to understand and respond more skilfully to inner contradictions. And as an opportunity to look together, with curiosity, at the very real difficulties and challenges of being in relationship with others.

When we discover and talk about our inner complexity, and correct our actions from there, we create the possibility of responding to difficulty not with recrimination (towards self or others) but with learning. And in the light of this our promises, shaky and incomplete as they are, can come to take on a new authority shaped less by our expectation that they’ll be perfect, and more by our understanding of what to do – together – when they break.

Photo Credit: Auntie P via Compfight cc

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