The polite 'no'

When the Second World War was drawing to a close, the Allies - US, Britain and Russia - met at the Yalta Conference to discuss the future of the nations of war-torn Europe. President Truman of the US found it difficult to deal with Winston Churchill of Britain. Adamant, he refused to sign any agreement unless he was totally satisfied. On the other hand, Stalin of Russia was amenable and easily convinced. It was only when the implementation of the terms began that the truth surfaced. While Churchill adhered to all the agreements, Stalin paid little heed to them. It was clear now that Churchill was being difficult because he had every intention of keeping all commitments. Stalin had been easy-going and cared little about the promises he made, because he had his own secret agenda. Not surprisingly, this was the beginning of the Cold War between the Western nations and Russia.

The making of promises is a constant and important aspect of life. It is the bedrock of all relationships, big and small. Whether it is everyday behaviour, marriage, business or governance, it involves trust and wreaks a great deal of damage when broken. The throwaway promise sends clear messages.  It means the defaulter has no regard for the person to whom it is made. With one stroke, he devalues his victim’s time, work and concerns, thus causing him untold hardship. His own reliability at once comes under question. If the behaviour continues, others learn not to count on him or to approach him anymore. This is not all. The non-compliant one is also disrespecting himself, telling his own self that he is untrustworthy. This lowers his self-esteem and his self-image. He begins to be suspicious of others and behaves in an unsocial manner.

Glib promises are often made because this brings instant appreciation and admiration. It is gratifying as it makes others speak well of the person. These rewards however are short-lived. The wise person will therefore ask himself whether it is crucial to make a commitment. He will examine his motives and think carefully before making any pact. It is well to remember that people respect honesty even when they do not receive what they expect or when the answer is a polite ‘no’.   
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