The Role of Promises in Our Society

The Role of Promises in Our Society

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The Role of Promises in Our Society

Promises. They play an integral part in everybody’s life. From the
simple I.O.U. to treaties between nations-, everything relies on one’s
word and promise. Promises have become a fundamental part of a
politician’s arsenal to gain popularity and win votes. Many have long
promised a chicken in every pot, but sadly, most pots are empty.
Businesspeople love to seal deals with a handshake, another form of an
agreement, another promise. Most promises are made simply to gain an
advantage and are to be broken later at a more ‘convenient’ time. Just
look at Hitler and World War II. Nonetheless, there are strong
pressures on politicians to make promises that they cannot keep. A
party that does not make exaggerated promises will appear bland,
unambitious, and uninteresting to voters compared to the one that
does. The lying party will thus almost always get elected over the
truthful one.

A promise entails quite a lot of trust in the promisee; one must
evaluate the situation and make a judgement wether or not to accept
the promise, weighing the risks and benefits. Even promise breaking in
the broader community is routine, even in very important matters such
as marriage. That there were 55,330 divorces granted in Australia in
2001, and the "crude divorce rate" was more than half the "crude
marriage rate", and that this is a relatively constant feature of
Australian family life shows that people will break one of the most
solemn - and doubtless sincerely-meant - promises they will ever
make.

For politics, the matter seems different. The public expect that
politicians should adhere to much higher standards than ordinary
people. Citizens believe, nevertheless, that most political promises
are like a salesman's patter - pious words not to be taken at face
value. A Bulletin poll taken in April found that only 7% of
Australians believed politicians were honest and ethical. John Howard,
during the recent federal election promised an injection of funds into
health that should have been made during his first term of Government,

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however then his position was not questioned and he didn’t need to
make grand promises. He has had eight years to show whether he really
cares about a strong health system, or rather, cares about the health
of his electoral chances.

Two promises that have shaped the world today are the Treaty of
Versailles where the German Government was forced to sign a treaty and
thus ‘promise’ to pay 6600 million pounds compensation to the Allies,
forfit its territories and reduce its military force. However this
promise was a forced promise and Germany from the start probably had
already made up its mind not to pay. A blatent example of using a
promise for political and personal gain is seen in the Munich Pact.
During the policy of Appeasement before WWII, Hitler was gaining power
and expanding his military forces. Britain and France are worried that
another war would break out and thus gave Hitler territory in
Czechoslovakia in return for his promise of no war. However, this only
made Germany stronger and provided her with more power and reason to
go to war. In the end, Germany, despite signing the pact attacked
Poland bringing about the Second World War.

There is a degree of leiniency dealing with promises, people these
days are accustomed that some promises made to them will not be
fulfilled. Politicians need to make exaggerated promises to be elected
and it is the voter’s job to analyse which candidate is more
confident, honest and has made the smarter but less far-fetched
promises than his opposition. One must also be smart and think about
the situation when accepting promises and not be misled. Promises are
the way of life in many institutions; for example a bank with the
lending and borrowing of money. A guarantee is a promise. The simple
cheque is a promise. Money is a promise. The world would not be able
to survive without promises of some kind.

(The effect of promises in society, the consequences of promises, the
history of promises and the current use of promises.)
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