The Good Promise

By Dr. Patricia L. Bay, Psy.D.
Published in W Magazine, August 2011

"I'm going to go to sleep, Grandma, because I gave you my good promise," stated 4-year-old, Ally. Her bright blue eyes sparkled under sleepy lids.

"That's nice," I whispered as I tucked her into bed. "What is your bad promise like?"

"That's where I don't really mean I'm going to do it," Ally replied sleepily.

One of the things that makes us trust people, even like people, is when they say what they mean and mean what they say. It is what every business is looking for in employees. It is what everyone is looking for in a friend, mate, offspring — even the family dog. We all relax when we get what we expect and that behavior is what we want.

Society's rules have been changing so fast that it is difficult to keep up. The electronic leashes provide a level of expected responsiveness that boggles the mind. When a friend sends a text, are you supposed to always answer immediately? What if that person never responds? What does that mean? I have found that I have been trying to apply my responsiveness values to current electronics. My adult children laugh and tell me I need to learn how to ignore people. What they mean by this is that you can wait until you finish in the bathroom to respond.

At times I fantasize about the "good ol' days" before answering machines were even invented. If you called someone, they either answered or they did not. Phones did not come out to the garden with you and if you were making love you took the blessed thing off the hook and tried not to worry about what people might think at the constant busy signal. If it was important, they would call back.

I remember resisting getting that first answering machine and was actually one of the last people I knew to break down and install one on the home telephone. It became an immediate source of stress. I would finish work with client phone calls to return and arrive home to that blinking light that screamed "pay attention to me." I could not have predicted then that today I would carry around a thing called a Droid — short for Android, like the robot — that could reach me anywhere, anytime. Emails, Facebook, voice mails, texts, all arrive with a moment's notice.

I suppose we must bring "the good promise" to our current day electronics, but that promise has to have some boundaries. At least wait until you finish in the bathroom before you return that text. Oh yes, and please wash your hands first.