Years ago, a teacher of mine, Ed Burghard — the very first time we met — told me about his Handshake Document.
“When I shake your hand,” Ed said, “I automatically make these promises.”
He handed me a sheet of paper. The paper described the implicit promises he makes whenever he shakes anyone’s hand. “This is what my handshake means,” said Ed. “You may hold me accountable.”
What does your handshake mean?
That’s the question I heard in Ed’s demonstration of his ethics. What are my own promises? What does it mean when I shake your hand?
Since that conversation, I’ve kept my own list of promises on this website. It’s my way of inviting you to hold me accountable to my values.
I first posted my promises a long time ago. From time to time, I update them.
Each time I revise my promises, I’m surprised. How can some of what seemed so eternal, so non-negotiable, have changed? What changed? Not my writing. What changed is me. And the world around me. As long as we are growing and learning, our promises change. Our norms — the based normal behavior we intend to exhibit — change.
At each revision, I see that I have outgrown many of my promises. (Some of them accommodated aspects of what look now like personal inauthenticity.)
Today, on what feels like a new day of courage, here are my promises, freshly revised:
Whenever I say “Hello,” that simple “Hello” isn’t so simple. It’s shorthand for this longer list of promises. (There just isn’t time for me to speak all these promises every time I say “hello.”)
My promises includes a second section, on the second page, that applies to whenever we meet as a peer group.
What Do You Promise?
Writing a list of Automatic Promises is a useful exercise in creativity and ethics.
It’s a way of clarifying — for yourself — what is not negotiable, what you stand for.