Can you break a promise? A simple, “yes,” is not what you would expect from a people-person. A critical factor is how will it affect the person who has a certain expectation. In some cases, the effect may be modified by your relationship to that person. How close are you?
Another affect may be how necessary is it that a promise is broken. If keeping the promise means greater harm for another then forgiveness may be forth coming. Even then the potential harm may be a matter of perspective.
The decision about whether to break a promise isn’t always given much thought, but the varied results of such an action are shown in the novel, Baggage burdens. Such results indicate breaking a promise needs careful consideration.
Consider the situation where a father is an alcoholic. He promises his daughter, Jill, he will quit drinking time and again. He breaks that promise and comes home. Violence erupts. She runs away from home. How long do you think she will hate her father––5 years? 10 years? 25 years?
Jill moves in with a former boyfriend after he promised not to try to restart their relationship. He breaks his promise. How long will her resentment last? Is it possible that since the males in her life have “lied” that she will generalize her mistrust to all males, at least not completely trust them? Jill’s life portrays a situation that actually happened.
Have you ever shared personal thoughts and feelings with a family member and later discovered that that person ended up sharing parts of your private life with someone else in your family? How might that affect your ability to trust anyone, ever?
Jill’s baggage is that she has experienced all three of these kinds of situations. Her burden for almost thirty years is that she finds it very difficult to trust anyone. Can you blame her? Do the consequences of broken promises make you think twice about not keeping your word?
Boyfriend’s Broken Promise
Jill can’t shake Dave’s focused concentration on her when they sat on the stairway steps. He listened so intently when she told him she had to leave home. He knew the truth about her father and her beatings. Then there was his pleading look. He almost begged her to let him help by making the basement suite available for her. He frequently took her side on supper menus, arguing against his brother.
Dave kissed her in the pantry, shattered her “he-loves-me” impression. His betrayal countered her infant security impression.
He promised no advances, no personal relationships. How could he do that? He ruined everything.
“And what of his willingness to apologize. Remember your grandmother’s assurance?”
Little things, because they are so small, are often dismissed as insignificant. When it comes to working with people nothing could be further from the truth.
A people-person makes certain to know other’s names and uses it at least once each time they meet. “Jim, good to see you.” Also “missed you” at the social or meeting says that that person is important. Even a greeting smile provides warmth. All these little things create a welcoming atmosphere.
Some little things may require a little more effort. Keeping in touch may involve taking time to phone or visit a friend, a colleague, or a family member regularly. Perhaps extending an invitation for coffee or beer or a game of pool or a card game opens the door for a closer relationship. The examples so far are designed to please another.
Miss opportunities to do the little things, and it won’t be long before one notices that personal relationships are not there when you want them to be. Personal sharing is gone. Analysis about what caused a friendship to become merely an acquaintance may bring on feelings of quilt or regret, regret because the one you thought was close to you has turned their attention to others. You experience loss.
In the novels, Baggage burdens. and Helping Hands both these situations are illustrated. In the first novel Jill passes up a number of times to be out with her son and his father. To her surprise she finds Daniel, her son, prefers the company of his father. Considering that she intended to be the best mother ever she regrets her lack of attention to the little things her son enjoyed, like going out together to cut down a Christmas tree or playing board games. Her late efforts to correct the imbalance fail and result in tension between her and her son and her and her husband.
In the second novel Bill, a psychologist and a company human resource officer and his son, a company mentor, both illustrate how being in touch with the little things in the lives of employees earns the worker’s loyalty to the company. Each attended to different little things but they all had to do with showing an awareness of what is going on in an employee’s life. These little public things like a son getting a driver license or scoring several goals in a hockey game showed that an employee is more than just a company resource. As a person they are valuable too.
Daniel looks to Mark. “So, what exactly is it that you do?” asks Daniel as he bounces his son on his knee.
Grinning, oil worker Mark begins, “You could say I’m a floater. Wherever the company needs me, that’s where I go––set up, repairs, welding, drilling, even security. Many of our workers are young. Keeping them isn’t easy. Lately, as in the last four years, I’ve been training, actually mentoring would be more like it.”
“What’s the difference?” asks Daniel as he shifts Shawn to his other knee.
“Training is skill building. That’s relatively easy. Mentoring is working with new employees. I not only teach them skills, but I make a point of getting to know them and their families, help them see how the company helps them live a good life.”
“Sounds like that’s beyond your job description. Probably takes up a lot more time too.”
“You’re right, Daniel. That’s exactly what my supervisor said too when he found out what I was up to. The thing is, the people who work with me have stayed with the company. They don’t quit.”
“Because when I learn what’s important to their family life, I always link the family goals with the company’s goals and their paychecks. Frequently, I know the wife and the children. I praise the father in their presence and talk to them about their family goals. Thanks to what I learn from the wife and the children, I’m able to motivate the men to work longer hours or tackle assignments they’d rather not.”
Such a statement triggers one’s defense mechanisms. When a complainant’s narrative fails to convince you that you made a mistake, the possibility of reducing tensions is greatly reduced. The possibility of peace disappears. Expect strained relations or at least hurt feelings to continue.
The path to reconciliation begins with the first most important and hardest step––accept another’s version of reality. It is usually very hard because one is certain their own reality is correct. They made no mistake. They weren’t intentionally trying to degrade the other. Because of the difficulty in accepting a different view one may begin with the alternative view as being a possibility.
The first stepping stone, acceptance, even possible acceptance, is critical. It communicates a sense of equality where equality was perceived not to exist. We know we do not choose to make our life worse. In an atmosphere of mutual respect then, we must acknowledge that no one chooses to make their life worse either. So then how can a new action or goal be adjusted? Pursuing this course of action demonstrates that the highest value is communal or family peace, or harmony for all. No one group or person is more important than the other.
Where harmony is the foundational value, openness to other realities can be explored between nations, groups in a nation, members in a community or family. It is in this latter two contexts that the novels, Baggage burdens. and Helping Hands were written. In the first novel Jill experiences a closed mindedness while she is in a rural Orthodox church. The aggressive spirit of her and the church results in no peace. Jill’s son, Daniel, experiences the same chilling effect in his relationship with his mother. However, the value of family harmony gets a shot in the arm when Jill desires to spend more time with her grandchildren. In the novel, Helping Hands, Jill, with the help of Bill, a friend, is lead down the path of reconciliation.
“Daniel, there’s a noticeable tension between us. Eve’s noticed it. Bill’s noticed it. I’m sure you’re aware of it. I know I’m aware of it. And it’s starting to create problems. I’ve been trying to figure out what I’ve done to anger you. Now, I could be completely wrong about this, but I suspect your anger has been simmering for a long time. I’m wondering if it has anything, anything at all, to do with my desire to have you take homeschooling when you were little.”
Jill notices surprise on Daniel’s face.
“At the time, I wanted you to be home with Amber and me so we could be a close family. My mistake was not thinking about what you wanted. Your father had to straighten me out.” She pauses. The first sentence is all she intended to say. “More than once I want to apologize for thinking only of what I wanted. I’m sure you can probably think of more examples like that, but I want to tell you I plan to be more careful. Do you think you can even begin to forgive me?”
“You’re right. I’ve been seeing you as selfish for a long time. I often wanted to tell you that to your face, but Dad wouldn’t let me. You say you’re changing. I’ll have to learn to start seeing that. I don’t know how well I will do. My instinctive reaction is to suspect you don’t care about anyone except yourself. It’s become a habit. I can tell you that I’ll work on it, but I may not always see it.”
“Me too, Daniel. I’ll work on taking your feelings into consideration. My habit won’t be any easier to break.”
“As for forgiving you, I can say I will start. Forgiving you means I can accept you had good reasons for your actions. I don’t know what they are. And I don’t want to know, at least not right now. I’m afraid I may take them as excuses. All I can say is that for now, I will assume you had good reasons. Maybe, in time, I will be ready to hear and understand them. Is that fair?”
“Yes, Daniel. A start is all I ask.” Jill has an overwhelming urge to rush over and hug Daniel, but she sees no sign of him being willing to accept it. His squirming suggests uneasiness.
Abuse. The horrors that victims endure during their torturous time seem unbelievable. How could anyone harm another person so selfishly? The recent “me to” stories reveal that the effects of mistreatment last for a long time. It makes the maltreatment even more abhorrent.
The victim’s shame often leaves the consequences of the mistreatment hidden. All that may be experienced by others is latent psychological effects. PTSD victims often explode or burrow into themselves. Silence is their visible sign of deep troubles. Many abuse victims manage to cope with daily living making them seem okay. However, seeing a particular sight or hearing certain words results in a flashback and actions that seem out of context to friends or family. Those actions may even result in others drifting away leaving the victim more isolated with their hang-up. At times strange deep engrained values appear. Because of the intensity of the expressed values, the cause of those values is rarely explored. Without airing the cause of those values the latent abuse effect remains untreated.
The above shared insights became known to me when I befriended an intelligent person seen by others as “weird” or “strange.” Her odd thoughts or actions caused others to drift away from her when it didn’t appear to be obvious. When circumstances paired us together I noted her unexpected avoidance. Her sadness, her desire to be alone to wrestle with a problem that arose from some of her behaviors opened the door to caring questions. Then scales of secrecy began to slip a bit, and then a bit more. With her admission of experiencing abuse as a child came understandings of present “strange” behaviors and reasons why others, even family chose to distance themselves from her. It is that reality that motivated the telling of Jill’s struggles in the novel, Baggage burdens.
A Disturbing Unexpected Action
“Jill. I have a question.”
“It’s kind of—of a sensitive one.”
She closes her book and looks at Joseph. His serious expression dismisses the sun’s soothing rays on her back.
“Remember when we were walking to Waikiki Beach in the morning?”
“Well, I saw the skateboarder coming. I reached out to pull you to safety. You pulled away.” Joseph pauses. “Why?”
Jill looks down at her closed book. Joseph waits for Jill to offer an explanation.
“I was trying to protect you, but you jumped away like I was trying to hurt you.” His statement hangs there. “Did you think I was going to hurt you?”
Jill searches for an explanation. The only answer she comes up with is one she is sure Joseph won’t understand.
“It’s instinctive,” she mumbles.
“Instinctive! Then you really did think I was going to hurt you. I could see it if it was someone else, but, but me—”
Jill remains silent.
Joseph says, “I’m confused. There are times we touch each other in such tender ways—” He pauses. “—like last night. Then in really important times, like when it comes to your safety, I can’t do a thing for you. I don’t want to see you hurt. I want to prevent it. Standing by and watching you get hurt—you know, that’s so frustrating.”
“Taking these pain pills should help,” says the doctor.
When it comes to hiding the pain from an arthritic knee he is right, at least for four or eight or maybe twelve hours. Then the pain is back. Time for more pills. The problem is still there. I know.
What’s more, taking more pills for even greater pain serves to over work the kidneys. By only treating symptoms more problems are being created. While treating symptoms until the main problem can be dealt with is a wise strategy, but not if there is no intention for further treatment. Suffering from pain is not worth treating symptoms only. Adding more problems is not worth treating symptoms only.
The problems arising from treating symptoms of pain are no different than treating psychological pains. Unless one deals with the underlining problem to depression or ongoing unhappiness the sadness and possibly angry outbursts will continue Those outbursts may hurt others creating new issues that need to be dealt with. The continuation of only treating symptoms can lead the one with psychological scars to conclude that they would be better off dead.
The life of Jill Kreshky in my novel, Baggage burdens. illustrates how even her husband’s best efforts to treat symptoms succeed to only create temporary happiness. His persistence in trying to make her happy and his continual forgiveness is not enough. Her feeling of unworthiness leaves her open to perceptions of an attack on her personality that throw her into deeper despair, despair that allows her to welcome death as an alternate to life. The last alternate comes twice in her life: once after her car accident and once after her own attempt to become happy fails. She too, was treating her symptoms.
How do you solve the real problem––low-self-esteem? The answer comes in my companion novel, Helping Hands. It takes a friend and psychologist to reveal her inner strengths and loving nature. Only then can Jill see her worth and tackle the two causes of her poor self-esteem––an unforgiveable teen act and her father’s declaration that her rebellious nature makes her unworthy of love.
“When you have done things a certain way for so long, change is not easy,” says Jill.
“I know, but I also know that you can change.”
“You’re just being nice, Bill.”
“I’d like to think I’m being more than nice. My confidence in your ability to change is based on facts and your genes.” Bill smiles as he sees Jill’s puzzled look. She isn’t into challenging him. She’s trying to understand him.
“I think if you ask Daniel, he would say it is very hard to change something that you have believed in all your life. When you and Joseph separated, Daniel told me he had absolutely no doubt that you were the cause. You were so self-centered. Your son claimed you always were. And yet when you apologized to him, when you showed you were concerned for his feelings, he changed. Daniel saw change in you, and he changed. You both have the ability to get over long-held views. And that’s how I know you can get over the effect your father has on you. Does that help?”
An obsessive person can drive one crazy. At first one may be tempted to admire a person’s determination, but when that focus persists even when more important challenges arise one is often surprised or even frustrated. A more exasperating experience is when one is not aware of the goal being pursued. The person’s actions strike you as illogical, maybe even irritating. Relationships become strained. This is the situation that Jill is in in my novel, Baggage burdens.
Jill’s goal is to be a better mother than her mother was. Her admirable goal becomes distorted. She must be the best parent in her own family. That means she must be a better mother than her husband is a father, a view to be held by all her children. Game on, except that Joseph doesn’t know that he is in a contest. He is content to be a good father, which he is.
The problem? The children’s excitement over an activity done with their father spurs Jill to try harder to be even better, to win the children back to her side. During their holidays when Joseph and Jill are together they experience a loving relationship. The moment these parents are back in their homes Jill turns the atmosphere into a competitive one and drives a wedge between her and her husband.
For Jill, her success is one child away. Her eldest son finds he has more in common with his father. Jill’s actions to win his heart serves to frustrate both her son and her husband, particularly when Jill attempts to undercut Joseph’s love for his children. Yes, an obsessively driven person can play unfair.
In the scene below Jill and Joseph are returning from a wonderful holiday in Hawaii. Thoughts of returning to her children bring Jill back into a competitive frame of mind.
Absent-mindedly, Jill follows Joseph to board the plane. The long line crawls.
No one wants to leave this beautiful place, she thinks.
Joseph reminds her to take out her passport for the airline steward. “Missing the holiday already?” he asks, as they board the plane.
“What did you like the best?”
After some thought, she says, “Everything. Absolutely everything.”
Once the plane takes off, Jill returns to Joseph’s question—“What did you like the best?” The holiday highlights pass the time until they’re in the air. Jill glances at Joseph. He’s already asleep.
Jill’s analysis returns. Why can’t I be as close to Daniel as Joseph is? She lists times she missed being out with Daniel and Joseph—the annual church father-son campouts brings regret. Church leaders said, “Too often the boys were valued farm labor. Fathers needed time to connect with their sons.” What about mothers?laments Jill. How are we supposed to build stronger connections with our sons? The first year, Joseph and Daniel went fishing. The campout was such a success that the father-son outings became an annual affair.
Jill had hoped that Joseph’s proposal for a skating rink for the family would bring them closer together. He always cleared the snow from the nearby pond and pumped water from beneath to flood the surface. The whole family bought skates. Benches were set out off to one side so they could rest and roast wieners. Many times Daniel helped his father shovel the snow off the rink. At first the family skated together. Then neighborhood boys heard about the rink. Many came to play hockey, even if they didn’t have skates. The following year, most of the boys brought skates. More and more, family skating gave way to hockey. The neighbors’ boys all came to their place even though other parents made rinks in their own yards.
Probably Joseph’s pizzas, guesses Jill. He made and served them after the kids finished their game. Playing hockey at their place became a tradition. For Daniel, Joseph was his hero. Daniel’s popularity in the school grew.
You’ve heard of fighting fire with fire, perhaps in the context of a forest fire, a good strategy. However, it is not a good strategy when applied to human relationships. Imagine or even worse remember where one driver cuts off a second driver. The horn blares from the second driver. The first driver sends a blast furious because he had to put up with a slow pace. A how-dare-you-complain response from the second driver sets up the conditions for road rage development. Fire feeds fire.
The best response to a hurry-up- horn blast that I’ve seen came from a female student driver. When stopped at the next set of lights she turned around, smiled and waved to the impatient driver. Then she looked forward and drove away when the traffic moved again. What a way of diffusing tension! Others who have signaled and cut in front of another driver have waved a presumed-permission thank you to cut off the expected horn blast.
This is the lesson that a young teen-age girl in my novel, Baggage burdens. needed to learn, a lesson her mother knew well.
Jill’s father’s frustrated roar breaks through.
“He said he wouldn’t drink anymore!” Jill’s outburst erupts, as she fails to contain her fury.
Her mother doesn’t respond. Righteous anger forces the seventeen-year old to her feet. She stands up to face her father.
“He’d better go downstairs and call his AA buddy.” Jill summons her courage; then advances intent to demonstrate her conviction and redirect her father downstairs.
Alice scrambles after her angry daughter. “Jill, don’t.”
“Don’t what? That was the deal. He said if he ever comes home drunk again we could tell him he had to call his AA buddy. We could remind him of it. He agreed to that. Remember?” The volume of her voice rises.
Jill advances again toward the top of the stairs planning to meet her father before he reaches the top step. The smoke from the cigarette, which he tossed on the top of the stairs nips at her nostrils. ‘Step on it,’ flashes through her mind. Before she can act, her mother’s objection interrupts.
“Yes, but . . .”
Jill wheels around and faces her mother. “But what?”
Alice can’t find the words quickly enough to explain how Jill’s provocative voice could ignite an emotional explosion and possibly a violent confrontation. The frustrated growling from the porch announces an intoxicated struggle to get out of outside clothes.
“Let me talk to him. Pleeease go to your room.” Alice’s pleading voice weakens Jill’s resolve.
Grumbling continues to bounce off the porch walls.
“Let me help you,” insists the indignant girl. “We have to stand up to him. We’re stronger together.”
“No. Please. Go to your room. Quickly.” Alice sees her desperate pleading reduce Jill’s determination. “Remember last time,” she adds.
Alice’s reference ignites the fear Jill hoped to permanently suppress. Three months earlier, overflowing with confidence from her year of weight training and the school’s women’s defensive course, Jill confronted her drunken father in the kitchen. She dared to challenge his behavior. Result: a neck jarring slap in the face. With pent up fury Jill delivered a similar action.
Her father exploded.
In Jill’s case letting a cooler head intervene serves to reduce the possibility of a violent confrontation. The female driver’s wave and smile cooled another heated response. A quick thank-you wave heads off an angry horn blast from the driver who was cut off. To prevent angry situations from getting out of hand, what action or words can you think of to head off escalating expressions of disapproval? Adopting a strategy, a head of time means it can be implemented immediately. Having to think of a cool-headed-response on the spot may take too long. Hasty reactions might result in an emotional explosion.