Growing up, the lesson was that we should never, ever break a promise. Never, not under any circumstances.
As adults, we hear messages that affirm that lesson – “you’re only as good as your word” and DWYSYWD (Do What You Say You Will Do). Of course, these are very good principles to abide by. But what about those times when it simply is not possible to keep a promise you have made? These absolute moral imperatives do not give us any latitude, nor any instruction, about how to handle situations when a promise made simply cannot be a promise kept.
It goes without saying that breaking a promise should be a rare exception. But it would be naïve to say that every single promise can be kept. The situation does not always allow for it, even when our best intentions are intact. When the time comes, we should be prepared to break a promise honorably.
The objective would be to break the promise without breaking the relationship, and, without damaging your own credibility. Can it be done? If so, how?
Making a promise is, indeed, a profound act. Within each promise is encapsulated the possibility of hope fulfilled and the vulnerability of broken trust. We must all take our promises seriously. But no one should be the prisoner of an impossible promise.
Circumstances change. Life alters our paths, and we sometimes are left with no other choice but to re-align our promise to match the current reality. It is not a lack of integrity, in those situations, to break a promise. Instead, integrity will be measured by what you say and do when you have no choice left and must break a promise.
In order to break a promise honorably, you need to be sure to do the following: