Broken promises are endemic in this society

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We’ve passed the four-week mark and no unemployment check yet. No sign of that soon. I’ve heard testimony from others who’ve been unemployed for a while that they are at the six-month mark with no relief.

We bought our house one year ago, and we bought it on the promise that the government would give us $8,000 as a tax incentive. We have not seen that money either. A tax attorney friend told me that he’d heard, unofficially and off the record, from an IRS agent that the government is out of money and drawing out payments in order to finish paying off the incentive, which ended earlier this year.

I’m not old enough to have been around when men sealed things with a handshake, but I certainly understand the sentiment old timers feel for that. It’s much too easy to break a promise today. It seems to be done all the time in fact.

I can only assume my former employer paid out the taxes on me that are then collected by the federal government to be used to ease the burden in times of unemployment. If they did, it’s difficult to see why so much red tape exists when the program was designed to help people. Of course you have to account for fraud, but the government seems almost unable to actually stick to its word.

It’s no wonder then that young people are simply walking away from their home loans and leaving their houses to rot while banks desperately seek new buyers. When the government doesn’t keep its promise, why should we? Right?

There was a time when a promise was not lightly made. Today they’re as easily made as liar loans and other predatory techniques centered around the gain of money. Even at a personal level, promises are easy to make to perhaps assuage guilt or make someone feel better, but breaking the promise seems even easier than making it in the first place.

I’ve seen more friends posting apologies for not following through on things, and I can’t help if as a culture we’re not entering some sort of moral third dimension where promises are told and retold as a tale without end. With no resolution of having followed through.

Of course I promised to love and cherish my wife until death parts us. These same words are uttered by people every day, and yet every day people dissolve their marriages as if paper somehow renders that promise null and void.

Why do we promise the moon, when we can’t deliver this little blue and green ball of rock we’ve already marked with our scent? Is it wrong to expect something from the government? In the Soviet era, the populace of a country like Russia did not trust its government as far as it could throw it.

But in one of the greatest booms of prosperity ever seen, it’s decidedly impossible to trust our own government to follow through  on its basic promises, which seems to make it impossible for us to follow through on those things we promised to fulfill, like making the mortgage payment.

As a father, I struggle to follow through on every promise I make the kids, and yet I fling promises about as easily as the U.S. government prints new money.

Perhaps we should return to the handshake, though I think people have been living on broken promises so long that there is very little meaning left in the action and its implication.

In the Old Testament story of Abraham, a promise was made that only an omnipresent, omniscient deity could fulfill. A physical sign of an offering, a carcass split in two was laid out and the participants in the promise walked between the halves. The implication in those days being that a broken promise meant death. Then a hand is placed on the thigh of person who is making an oath, further insuring that the events detailed will come to pass. I’m pretty sure this is not something that would go over today.

But my point is that words are seemingly easily broken today, whereas complex rituals were often added to a promise in years past. As much as we’ve lost our ability to keep our promises today, we’ve lost our ability to believe in promises made. I’m not sure this makes us better off than our ancestors.

I would like not to be cynical about my view of when the government might fulfill its promise to me regarding the insured money I should be receiving, but I have no sign of faithfulness from that inhuman entity. I would like not to be cynical about my friends and family who make and break promises, but I’ve learned not to trust, which comes easier than belief.

Tim

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