The Theosophical Forum – January 1940

OUR PROMISES — M. G. Gowsell

First and foremost of all human obligations is the one that lies nearest to hand. And it may well be owing to its immediate proximity, its too nearness perhaps, that it so often goes unrecognised, or is altogether obscured and hence denied fulfilment. The truth about duties, whatever they may be, might be viewed as one of those fundamental verities which are so recondite and yet so amazingly simple when once understood. Or, looked at in another light, as just another of the numerous prickly facts, let us say, which we have been so wont to kick against.

Obligations, like the word duty, convey to many a decidedly unsavory tang. And to such it might be news indeed were they to be told on good authority that the universe in which we live is absolutely dependent upon what amounts to just that. For there is, must of necessity be, the closest of links, bonds, intimate relationships and convenantal responsibilities, running through, knitting together and permeating every department, function, and operation of what we humans have agreed to call Nature. This applies in and all through her manifold activities, whether mundane, solar, or cosmic; it matters not which, for all is essentially One.

And now after this somewhat rambling preamble, it were well perhaps to expatiate a little upon the matter of promises, engagements — obligations of whatsoever kind. Looking at our mundane affairs today, one can readily relate much of the wide-spread misery to the effects of broken promises. The defaults pertain to our social, financial, commercial, and political life, all of which are intimately connected with and have had much to do in bringing about the present state of world affairs. We have all been witnesses to faithless, pie-crust promises between individuals, and the same stamp of engagements between nations; abrogations right and left, social, political, and economic, wherever and whenever self-interest and expediency have got the upper hand. Can one any longer wonder at the world's trepidation and unrest.

At this point it might be pertinent to inquire as to just what part if any the average citizen of good intent may have had in the more major defaults that are causing us so much pain and suffering. For no man lives unto himself alone. We are not concerned at the moment with the brutality in excelsis that stalks abroad here and there the world over. That is another story. What we are endeavoring to do in a few words is to trace back to its primal fount, this harvest, this ripple of effect, and to ascertain the cause: "for this effect, defective, comes by cause."

But, one might ask, what have you and I had to do with all this grief? A great deal, in my humble opinion. Suppose we hold the mirror up to ourselves for a minute and see whether we may not have had some responsibility in the matter. There may be a much closer personal responsibility in this than would first appear, for we are all rather myopic when it comes to self-scrutiny.

Honest, indeed, is that man or woman who would rather die than forego a promise once made, an obligation once undertaken. How many of us have the power, the discrimination, the reflective judgment, to refuse to make a promise, even to ourselves, so long as there remained a doubt as to whether such might be successfully acted upon. These little dealings with ourselves: that is what we are trying to get at. It is in the small intimate defaults, gaps, abrogations and venial shortcomings, "whereof the execution did cry out against the non-performance," that we may glimpse the source, the small beginnings, of this river of insincerity that has become more or less endemic, if not pandemic. We should remember that there can be no great and no small in the divine economy, nor in any other economy in nature. Great and small are but human concepts. So that the smallest, most trivial of formulated intentions, promises, let us say, made to one's self and allowed to go by default, have but laid the foundation for more insincerity, each a step from the venial toward the venal.

No, it would be better far to make good any promise thus made, no matter how seemingly trivial, and no matter if its execution should entail personal inconvenience, suffering even, or material loss. To do otherwise would be to forego some valuable lessons. The gain would be found to far, far outweigh any sort of loss. Moreover there would be none of that intimate, disconcerting, loss of face, that carking aftermath, which is bound to follow upon a breach of faith. One is reminded of the words put into the mouth of one of Shakespeare's characters, when he was made to say: "This above all, to thine own self be true; and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."

Theosophical University Press Online Edition