I have this deep frustration inside of me that’s been growing for a long, long time. It’s a frustration about something that I can’t really change (hint: other people) so I’m trying to make peace with it and it’s not really working. My frustration has to do with integrity (or lack thereof) in the vast majority of people today. Since when did it become the norm to not take your own word seriously?
I suppose I should be more specific. I look around me and I hate to say it, but the majority of the people I interact with these days generally don’t follow through with what they say they are going to. They say they are going to do something by a certain date, and they don’t. They commit to a get-together or event and then cancel at the last minute (or just don’t show up.) Or even just something as simple as being more than ten minutes late on a regular basis. I’m beginning to take it personally, and I know I shouldn’t because it’s an epidemic in our society and it’s not just the people around me — it’s become the norm.
The problem is, I see it as a lack of respect. And no matter how hard I try to reframe that mindset or try to put myself in other peoples’ shoes, I just don’t get it.
Now don’t get me wrong, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that there were times in my life when I’ve done each of these things; especially when I was younger. I remember one time when I was a teenager and was supposed to babysit for the neighbors down the street and I canceled on them last minute and TO THIS DAY I still feel awful about it. But my inability to forgive myself for past mistakes is an entirely different problem. The thing is, I’ve grown up from that. And I’m nowhere near perfect, but I put a significant amount of effort these days into following through with what I say I’m going to do.
If I don’t want to do something or can’t commit to something, I tell people up front. If I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to make it, I say I’m not going to be able to make it. If a client wants me to meet a deadline but I’ve got a pile of work on my desk from other clients that needs finishing first, I tell the client I will do my best (and I do my very, very best) but I don’t make promises I can’t keep. And if I do promise to meet a deadline, I will stay up all night if I have to in order to meet it. When my grandmother was in the hospital recently, I had to cancel going to lunch to catch up with an old friend who I haven’t seen in years. Granted, it was a very valid reason to cancel, and I gave her some advance notice, but I still deeply regretted it. I always leave early for appointments and meetings, just in case traffic is bad — because it often is, here in so cal — and arriving on time is important to me.
Why? Because I care. Because I respect other people. But also, because my word is my bond. It is the gold bar behind the dollar that actually stands for something and gives it value. If I never followed through with what I said I was going to, people would stop believing me when I say things.
I see it in other people. Those friends that are always late? I hear other people rolling their eyes and scoffing at them and complaining about them because they know that 5:00 really means 5:30. Those friends that always cancel at the last minute? I never hear the end of it from those closest to them who have gotten to the point that they simply don’t believe them any more when they say they are going to be there. “We’ll see,” and an eye roll is usually the response, followed by genuine surprise when the person actually shows up. We’ve become a society that expects less from other people because we’ve been trained to do so. And it drives me fucking crazy.
I would so much rather someone be straight with me and say “maybe” every single time than “yes” and cancel again and again (and I’m incredibly thankful to a couple of friends who have realized they are this way and no longer commit to anything unless they know for certain they will be there. Seriously — it makes all the difference that they just say “maybe” up front.)
Because no matter how much people flake on me, I am not going to stop being the person I am. I am not going to stop caring, and stop trying, and stop doing my best to follow through. I don’t ever want to be that person that gets rolled eyes when my head is turned because people have come to expect the worst from me. I mean, yes, I will probably drop the ball here and there. Every once in a great while, I end up being late; sometimes you just can’t help that. And once in a while, I will probably have to cancel for one reason or another, but I make a very concerted effort not to, and at the very least give advance notice if possible. It’s important to me that those are the exceptions to the rule, and that no one ever comes to expect that from me. My word matters to me. And unfortunately, I feel like it doesn’t matter to anyone else.
I always tell people up front: if you can’t commit to this, don’t. If you don’t want to do it, don’t. If you can’t be there at 5:00, say you will be there at 5:15 or 5:30. But people do anyway. They shrug it off, say they will be there, or say they will be on time. And then they are not. And it makes me want to bang my head against a wall.
Don’t get me wrong; there are people in my life that follow through. This isn’t a blanket statement. I do feel like (generally speaking) the older generation has a better relationship with integrity than my peers. BUT there are definitely exceptions on both sides of that.
I hate to say it, but the truth is just that most people don’t really care if their word has no substance. And from someone who works hard to maintain their integrity, who cares about follow through, it’s a source of endless frustration for me. I tell myself over and over that these people are just too caught up in themselves and their lives to realize it. They were never taught that integrity matters, so how can I expect them to realize that it does? I tell myself again and again that it isn’t meant as a slight. But unfortunately, no matter what I do, my brain still interprets it as “this person has no respect for me or my time.” And what ends up happening is I get tired of hearing the lies (because let’s face it, that’s what they are — lies) and ultimately I end up weeding these people out of my life.
I’m not sure why, but lately it just seems like it has been worse than ever. I’ve been increasingly bombarded by people who don’t follow through or cancel on me and I’m just getting tired of it. When it starts hitting from every angle, it gets harder and harder to let slide. I try really hard to have low to no expectations, but somehow I still end up disappointed in other people.
I’m working on it.