Why promise?


Ein europäisches Versprechen – Foto: Sabitha Saul


Public promises are often promises we do not believe: for example promises by politicians, promises by advertising, or promises by ideological parties often misleading people who are easy to convince. In public we seem to need more binding social procedures to build confidence in future arrangements, such as the vow or the contract.

On the other hand – as a private gesture – a promise can be something really precious. On the surface it might be nothing more than a subjective statement – but it is closer to the heart. What in objectivity seems to be insufficient, is a very personal human quality. The fact that the mere promise is not accepted, and even suspicious in this sphere, is significant for ourselves and our society.

A promise is a voluntary commitment to something in the future that you choose yourself, and it’s up to you whether or not you keep your promise. At the same time a promise is always an act of communication involving someone or something. And a promise is always a very personal choice, an intimate act related to someone you feel indebted to. A promise assumes confidence and it claims credit for the given word, for one’s own creativity.

If I keep my promise in private, but announce publicly that I made it, what does that say about my promise and about me? If many make a promise, not revealing it, would that make any difference? Would that expose a different public?