When I was a child I remember the importance we placed on a pinky promise. My friends and I would share secrets and then hook our pinkies with solemn intent to never tell our parents who did what or to reveal our secret crushes (outing myself to reveal mine as an 80s James Spader and later Johnny Depp!). We watched with eagle eyes for the slightest sign of the only jinx free way to get out of a promise - the crossed fingers. I personally never liked the crossed fingers. It was technically an accepted "out" yet the shame of using it was too great a price to bear. I preferred to settle for promising to try...
My parents made sure I knew that giving my word was tantamount to giving blood. They set an example to follow by never promising me anything unless they knew they could and would follow through. In contrast, I noted my own feelings towards the people in my life who could (and frequently do), lie very easily. I learned very early on that there was a significant consequence to dishonest words -an utter loss of trust and respect. I still hear my father's voice telling me that "your word is your bond - it's the most important thing a person has to give".
Today my own son insists on the "Pinky Promise" - a respected and highly useful ploy to ensure parental follow through. He is too young and innocent yet to insist that I remove the "try" from my promise. Example: I promise to try to pick you up early from after care or I promise to think about taking you to the Lego store and letting you pick out a $300.00 over priced set. (Although I do technically think about it, my thinking usually takes about three seconds on that one). Although I dread the moment he will insist on a straight answer, I know I will have the courage to face his disappointment. Much better to disappoint him over a temporary want than in his mother's character.
Yet I was amazed and touched recently when, during a Pinky Promise (to take him to the park after we ran errands) he made the following comment: "Our family always keeps our promises. We are a promise keeping family!" He said it with such conviction and sincerity that I wanted to cry.
Someday he will be hurt when someone betrays him. He will be surprised the first time a friend reneges on a their word. He may even mourn the loss of a relationship destroyed by an inability to share trust. The world is full of dishonesty but we are teaching him to be able to identify it and to be wise to what he can depend upon versus what is not real. We are teaching him to be someone others can depend upon. His character is being shaped by the role models around him, including teachers, family (including ourselves) and friends. No one is perfect but he is recognising the value of trying your best to be decent and truthful and to treat others with a fair mind.
I am proud when he sees a commercial and then disdainfully remarks that "those people are trying to trick me into asking you to buy me sugar cereal because they think kids aren't very smart". It is not his catching the trick that I am proud of - it's the clear dislike he demonstrates for the lie itself. We are setting an example of what it means to keep your word - and that is the value of a pinky promise.