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Thursday, October 8, 2009

PLEDGES, OATHS, VOWS & CODES

I have been watching the History Channel a lot lately. I find as I get older there is little on the "prime time" channels that interest me. Instead, I find myself drawn to documentaries, biographies, and history, as well as classic movies (you know, the films they made before computers and had real scripts). Recently, the History Channel has been running a series on modern day gangs, both in and out of the prison system, and I have found it to be very interesting. These are gangs who have gone way beyond the Sharks and the Jets; bloodthirsty groups who stop at nothing to dominate a territory and extort money any way they can.

During the documentary, several current and former gang members are interviewed. Interestingly, one of the main reasons they join a gang is to establish a sense of family, a desire to belong to something in order to feel wanted and accepted, which is something they were not getting at home, regardless if they have parents or not. They are willing to pay dearly for this too, and voluntarily take a binding oath and suffer through a harsh initiation ritual, all for the sense of belonging. Such blood oaths and initiations leaves a lasting impression on the individual who dares not leave the gang, partially in fear of the consequences, but more as they desperately want the sense of family.

During our lifetime, we make a lot of pledges, and take certain oaths and vows. For example,


  • "To love, honor and obey, until death do us part."

  • "To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law."

  • "I pledge allegiance to the flag..."

  • "I will play fair, and strive to win, but win or lose, I will always do my best."

  • "I, (name), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

As an aside, I find it interesting that all such oaths related to serving in American government or military end with, "So help me God."

These pledges are all nice and sound impressive, but I find few people take them seriously anymore and reject them when it suits them. In other words, there is no real commitment to stand behind our words. Consider, for example, "The Journalist's Creed" or the "Hippocratic Oath" as administered to physicians. If you read them carefully, you have to wonder how many people truly adhere to them.

Mechanisms such as pledges, oaths and vows are intended to define our code of conduct. This, of course, refers to our honor and ability to keep our word, something people use as a measurement of trust. I find it interesting that criminals have a higher regard for such things as opposed to John Q. Public. Maybe its because the criminal code has stiff penalties which will undoubtedly be executed if violated, and the person knows it. In our society though, there is no real penalty for violating our obligations, least of all shame or embarrassment. In other words, taking an oath or vow has become a joke in our society, and as long as it remains a shallow inconsequential ceremony, it will always be regarded as nothing more than a triviality to be implemented only when it is convenient to do so.

It's no small wonder why today we have a deterioration of ethics, both in our homes and in the work place. It is one thing to enact legislation, quite another to enforce it. You can make all the pledges, oaths, vows, and codes you want, but if there is no real consequence for violating them, there is little point in administering them. The criminal class understands this. John Q. Public does not.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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