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STELLPFLUG COLUMN: Promises easier to make than keep

STELLPFLUG COLUMN: Promises easier to make than keep

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When my dog’s life was draining from him, I was devastated. I did what any good 12-year-old Catholic girl would do; I promised God I would become a nun if he let my dog live.

I was not above bargaining and my dog was my best friend, my confidant, and the one thing I loved more than anything. I did mention I was very dramatic in those days, right? But his demise was not my decision. Promises or not.

Becoming a nun was not in my future. I didn’t even look good in black, the color of nunnery at the time, and was hardly a candidate for reverence or piety. I knew it was a shallow promise and it was truly unfair to put God in that position.

How many promises do we make, to ourselves or others, which fall by the wayside because there are always extenuating circumstances? In the case of my wonderful, loving, but blind dog, my parents put him to sleep while I was at school. It took years to forgive the big dog that bit him, and the owners of the dog, even though I babysat for them. I also blamed my mom, because I assumed it was her idea.

It was out of my control, bargaining or not, a 12-year-old‘s promises can’t always be reliable. As adults, however, we do the same thing.

We promise ourselves to work out every day. Then we have a work deadline or an unexpected assignment or errands and that promise is broken. We do some shoveling in winter or gardening in summer and decide the best workout is one that has a byproduct. Now we just justified breaking our promise to ourselves.

We promise not to eat dessert during Lent, but then someone makes us a birthday cake and it would just be rude not to accept and indulge in someone else’s act of kindness. We promise to visit friends who have moved away but suddenly years go by before we make that road trip. We promise to have that report done on time and then we face challenges that keep us from focusing on work and another three days pass before we turn it in.

We make promises to build trust. We keep promises to secure our reputation and to show our character. If an employer says, “Honoring our new recycling policy, I’m reusing my incentive promises made in 2018, 2019, 2020,” his integrity may be a bit skewed.

That pales by comparison to political promises. A political party in Zimbabwe, in it’s national election manifest in 2018, promised to build 1.5 million houses in five years. Broken down, that would have been 822 houses per day. I’m pretty sure they couldn’t have done it.

U.S. candidates have no end to their imaginations when it comes to promises. John Edwards promised to cure diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. I didn’t even know he was a doctor. Alan Caruba promised to hold a telethon to end the national debt. He also promised to end boredom. Both are great ideas, right?

Michelle Backman promised to withdraw from Libya—and Africa. Former U.S. House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich promised to set up a permanent American Colony on the moon by 2020, if elected U.S. president.

My favorite election promises are by Vermin Supreme, a performance artiste. He promised a gift of a pony to every American if he was elected president. That actually is along the lines of a chicken in every pot, I guess. To his credit, he also said if elected president he would pass a law requiring people to brush their teeth.

I gave my sister a mug recently. It was honest. “I’d walk through fire for you, sister. Well not fire, that would be dangerous. But a super humid room, but not too humid because, you know, my hair.”

If my dog had lived and I would have kept my promise to become a nun, I wouldn’t have worried about my hair.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at


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