We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot. ~Abraham Lincoln
“Sonny: What’s the matter?
C: This guy “Louie Dumps” owes me 20 dollars. It’s been two weeks now, and every time he sees me he keeps dodging me. He’s becoming a real pain in the ass. I mean, should I crack him one or what?
Sonny: What’s the matter with you? What have I been telling you? Sometimes hurting somebody ain’t the answer. Is he a good friend of yours?
C: No, I don’t even like him.
Sonny: Well there’s your answer right there. Look at it this way… It costs you 20 dollars to get rid of him. He’s never gonna bother you again. He’s never gonna ask you for money again. He’s out of your life for 20 dollars. You got off cheap. Forget it.”
Anyone who has seen the movie A Bronx Tale with Robert DeNiro will recall the character named Lillo chasing down Louie Dumps for the $20.00 dollars Louis owes him. But Louis avoids him and makes the fast getaway. Sonny gives Lillo some pretty good advice. Sonny tells Lillo, “think of it this way, you got off cheap.”
Many of us can recount a time when we’ve been taken advantage of. Someone we know and trust gives us their word yet easily breaks it. They end up taking something small or large from us. Losing $20.00 is a bearable loss, betrayal that can damage our loved ones, or our team mates is far worse. But in the scheme of things lying is a loss that makes us check ourselves and why we believe what we do.
People lie today because the consequences are really not severe. We live in our modern culture where breaking our word really doesn’t have the serious political, social or personal consequences as they once did. In fact, some of our politicians, military and law enforcement members lie on a daily basis without serious repercussions.
In ancient Biblical times having honor was a serious matter. Though we live in modern times should keeping our word be different? In the past a man’s reputation was the most important thing he owned. How could you be counted on to be lent money if everyone in town knew you were untrustworthy? In small towns or villages people talked. How about in platoons and companies? What kind of reputation do you want to have?
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In his book Chivalry and the Ideals of Knighthood in France during the Hundred Years War, writer Craig Taylor covers the chivalric writers who celebrated the importance of keeping one’s word and not making false oaths. “Being truthful, denouncing ignoble vices and keeping one’s promises were important things to do for a knight. Taylor notes that breaking one’s word was associated with youth and weakness.”
“those guilty of lying and breaking their promises, especially in a matter of honour, were to be removed from their horses, physically assaulted and then publicly shamed by being set on their saddles on top of the list barrier.” Breaking an oath was a betrayal of knighthood.
How would it be if we could take a politician down from his horse and give him a good whooping for lying? Well if a politician isn’t a knight, does it make his lying acceptable to us? Being a man of honor means far more than wearing the uniform of a military man or the armor of a knight. It means making a sincere attempt to fulfill the oaths you took and the promises you made when you wear the uniform. “I will call you, I’ll text you, I will pay you back, I will respect your gear…”
Everyone can understand that priorities and circumstances get in the way, but excuse making is never tolerable.
How about Ephalites? He was the Greek who betrayed his homeland to the Persians because he hoped for some kind of reward from them. During the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. he showed the Persians around the allied Greek position at the pass of Thermopylae because of his false pledge to honor his brothers.
Viking memes are very popular for social media sharing. We see lots of memes on killing, being strong, but do we ever see a meme about keeping a promise or what happens when it is broken? Everyone thinks its important to present themselves as a brave Viking, but how many think it’s equally important to be a man of virtue?
Long ago, about 3000 B.C., the Odin Stone, was thought to have been erected. It was about 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. The Odin stone was a monolith with a hole carved through it. The Odin stones power was in binding marriages and very importantly, sealing agreements. Those who wanted to seal their oaths would trek out to the place it stood on and clasp their hands through the hole. The men would swear an “Odin Oath.” How’s that for a visual?
What happened when someone broke their oath? A paper dated 1774, noted:
“This ceremony was held so very sacred in those times that the person who dared to break the engagement made here was counted infamous, and excluded all society.”
Another case, recorded in 1781, involved a young man who had seduced a girl under promise of marriage. The girl, who fell pregnant, was subsequently deserted:
“The young man was called before session; the elders were particularly severe. Being asked by the minister the cause of so much rigor, they answered: ‘You do not know what a bad man this is; he has broke the promise of Odin.’
Being further asked what they meant by the promise of Odin, they put him in mind of the stone at Stenhouse, with the round hole in it; and added, that it was customary, when promises were made, for the contracting parties to join hands through this hole, and the promises so made were called the promises of Odin.”
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Trust is easy to give but hard to earn back when broken. Sadly, the people who promise much often portray themselves as honest yet it’s usually a smoke screen for cover and allows them to continue doing what they do best: lie. Many cultures believe that a man, without his word, is nothing. I was raised to believe that a man who kept his word was on his way to becoming everything.
Getting onto a new team or being stationed somewhere can open a person up to meeting new people. Those who lack honesty are likely to try to impress others by telling stories about what they have supposedly accomplished. Stolen valor for example is something people do. Borrowing money without the intent of paying it back is another no-no. I’ve had a legitimate hero steal from me and lie to me. Boo hoo. We cannot control what others do but we learn lessons after being deceived.
Remember Sonny? Sonny: Well there’s your answer right there. Look at it this way… It costs you 20 dollars to get rid of him. He’s never gonna bother you again. He’s never gonna ask you for money again. He’s out of your life for 20 dollars. You got off cheap. Forget it.”
In Dante’s Inferno the eighth plane of nine planes of Hell was reserved for frauds. In some cultures they permitted torture and death for those that lied; what if we brought those kinds of punishments back, would that change things? I think so.
For me, it will always be less about the man lying, than it is about me holding onto my integrity. I can’t control what others choose to do. I can control myself and my responses to lying. If you want to be a Spartan or a Viking, think less about kicking in doors, and start with the small stuff. Don’t break your word. Be honest. It is the beginning of being held in high-esteem. Be straight with others because THIS is where honor starts.