Professional Perspectives

My Word Is My Bond—Or Is It?

My Word Is My Bond—Or Is It

Arthur D. Collins, Jr.
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

After watching a recap of the week’s news, I asked myself how many of our political leaders really believe in the longstanding pledge, “my word is my bond.”

These powerful words rarely have been taken lightly since their biblical origin. Merchant traders dating back to the late-1500s knew that their words were in fact their bonds, constituting legally binding agreements. Commodity and stock traders in the pits of the CBOT and NYSE clearly understood this ironclad concept, and the London Stock Exchange has used the Latin equivalent, dictum meum pactum, as its motto since 1801.

More recently, the five words have been shorted in the lyrics of rap and hip-hop artists to “word is bond”—forcefully underscoring the importance of speaking the truth and standing by what you say.

“My word is my bond” has an implied commitment in two important and interlocking respects. First, “my word” must be clear, unambiguous, truthful, and well understood by all. Second, “my bond” must be unequivocal, acted upon or realized, and lasting. Backtracking or reneging on either of these two essential components will shatter the trust of any person or persons to whom a pledge or statement of fact is made, as well as erode the confidence of all witnessing bystanders—including the general public.

People in all walks of life have understood the meaning and implied commitment of these words, as well as the downside attached to perpetrating falsehoods or breaking one’s word. For honest, ethical, and trustworthy friends and adversaries alike, there is no doubt that “shaking hands” on an agreement should be just as binding as a written contract would be in any court of law. Furthermore, it has been my experience that this tenet is universal and transcends national boarders.

In light of all that has happened in the months leading up to and since the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, one may legitimately ask if  “my word is my bond” is still a valid concept at the highest levels of government. Are the written and spoken words of our leaders to be trusted? Are truly honest men and women still role models whom members of all generations should aspire to emulate? And, just as importantly, if the answer to any of these questions is “no” or “maybe not” or anything less than a resounding “yes,” what can one do about it?

I am not naïve enough to think that everyone is perfect, and I know full well that we all make mistakes and need to change course from time to time. However, I also know that the vast majority of people can differentiate truth from half-truths or outright lies; that the veil of purposeful distraction or evasion masking truth ultimately will be seen through; and that false assertions or broken promises will eventually undermine any individual’s credibility. I also am convinced that people of all ages want to believe in and trust their leaders; that true leaders try to do what is right and what will stand the test of time; and that dishonest leaders will sooner or later fall from grace and lose their mandate to lead.

While politicians have long been accused of bending the truth to their advantage, ducking embarrassing questions, and evading uncomfortable issues, the current discourse in Washington D.C. has taken truculent rhetoric and circumvention to a whole new level. Accusations from the White House and from both sides of the aisle abound, distracting even the best-intentioned lawmakers and public servants from getting on with the important work of government.

Sorting out what is and is not “fake news” has become a daily exercise for the press and the public at large. In fact, some news organizations have been the source of blatantly false reports. The net result of all this subterfuge and dishonesty has been an erosion of trust in our leaders and in many of the influential institutions on which we all depend.

Are there are honest men and women whose word is actually their bond and who can act as leadership role models? The answer is decidedly yes. Are there actions we can take that will really make a difference? Here again, the answer is definitely yes. In this regard, let me offer two simple suggestions that are targeted specifically at our politicians in Washington and elsewhere.

1.  Document: Gather together a small group of family members or friends and agree to keep a journal for one week. In one part of the journal, list the most noteworthy truthful statements or promises kept that you hear, read, or see. In the other part of the journal, list the most blatant misrepresentations or failed commitments that you witness. Make sure that you also document the date and the name of the person who is the source of each entry.

2.  Discuss and Speak Up: Share your journal entries among the members of your group, discuss similarities and differences, and then write to those individuals whose statements and actions you recorded in your journal. Remember that politicians will react to voters in a way that they would not respond to professional fact checkers, reporters, or others they deem to be politically biased.

Returning to my original question, it strikes me that the concept of “my word is my bond” is just as valid today as it ever has been. Moreover, now more than ever we need leaders who understand and believe in the commitment these words embody. We also need leaders who are willing to live by these compelling words—day-in, day-out—and call out those who don’t. Finally, we need everyday people to stand up and be counted.

Is all this talk about a person’s word being their bond a pollyannaish pipedream in the current political environment? Perhaps. However, if you’re not quite sure or if you’re certain that it’s not, get out your journal and begin to write!

Art Collins

Art Collins

Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

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