As Good as your Word: Anything You Say Can and Will Be Held Against You

Ms. Redbird poses while I stalk her through a window, window screen, and patio.  Photo copyright by Lorna Tedder; all rights reserved.

I believe that a person’s word should be good enough.

I  refuse to put my hand on a Bible and swear to tell the truth.  I refuse to swear to tell the truth, period.  I believe that my word is good enough.  In fact, I find the act of having to “swear” I’m telling the truth to be offensive to me and overall meaningless when it applies to other people.  If someone has integrity, they have it without putting a hand on a Bible and if someone is going to lie or mislead, then I believe that person will find a way to do so regardless of which holy book is present or which Deity is called upon.

Bibles and swearing are not some kind of “Simon says, ‘tell the truth’” tools.  In my world, you don’t get to lie indiscriminately and then, when someone sticks a Bible under your nose, you say, “Oops, NOW I have to be honest but as soon as you remove that Bible, I can lie freely again.”

In both personal and professional relationships that have failed or ended quickly, I often find myself shaking my head and frowning while mumbling, “But he SAID—“ or “But she SAID–.”  I’m always confused until I back away for a moment and realize that I’ve based much of the relationship—whether romantic or business—on the other person being truthful.  My reactions to them and the path I take in those relationships is always based on my idealistic understanding that they will live up to what they have said.  In my profession, the majority of my contracts are negotiated under the Truth in Negotiations Act, so I’m hardest hit in my personal negotiations where I often take for granted that the other person is acting with integrity.

I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and not distrust every stranger I meet.  I prefer living that way to being paranoid and hiding from the world.  Occasionally, I become involved with someone who blithely tells me what he or she thinks I want to hear or what they think it will take to get my agreement.  Then when they fail to follow through, it’s whiplash for me.

One of the sourest business deals I’ve been a party to  was when a potential business partner begged me to work with her.  I pointed out all the reasons I was hesitant, and she countered each one, telling me how she felt about the situation and how each reason wasn’t an issue to her. I plowed substantial  resources into the deal, only to find out too late that all the things she’d been adamant didn’t matter really did and always had.  When I ask why she’d led me to believe otherwise when I’d told her what battles we’d have to overcome, she stated, “If I’d told you the truth, you wouldn’t have proceeded with our deal.”  Well, at least in that, she was right.

I’ve read that instead of listening to someone’s words for the truth, you should watch their actions for the truth.  That may be so, if those actions are visible.    The guy who tells me repeatedly that he’s not seriously involved with a particular woman might be believed if I watch his actions—that I know about—and listen for the consistency in his words.  Unfortunately for him, I do have the insight into his actions that he doesn’t know about and his private actions with his too-talkative girlfriend betray his words.  Then again, I shouldn’t have to rely on watching his actions—I want to take him at his word.

Once, when I argued with a new romantic partner that he was not truthful with me, he tried to tell me that I had the wrong idea about our budding relationship.  I reminded him, word for word, of what he’d said that had lured me in.  He became angry then and told me that if he hadn’t said that, I never would have agreed to a second date and that it had been his best interest to lie to me.

“Jeez,” he said as we parted for the last time, “I guess anything I say can and will be used against me!”

I’d not thought of it that way.  It wasn’t that I was using anything “against” him, but rather, merely expecting him to live up to his word as I had.  If his word had been good, then there would have been no need for anything to be held against him.

But then, I’m an idealist, and I expect people to mean what they say or don’t say it at all.  Without having to swear it on a Bible.