The fools who shoot themselves in the foot and how to not be one of them

In belated celebration of Father’s Day, I thought I’d share one of the most valuable bits of wisdom that my dad offered me during his time on this here earth. And it was captured wholly in this one sentence:

“A man is only as strong as his word.”

Growing up through the early days of Hip-Hop, I often heard and said, “Word!” as an equivalent to “I agree” or “For real.” This slang included variations such as “Word up”, “Word ‘em up,” “Word life,” and “That’s my word,” all of course having shared origin in the phrase, “Word is bond.” Incidentally, a friend of mine giving an arts workshop at a middle school said “Word” during class and was mocked by her students for sounding old. And they’re right unfortunately, not just in hip talk but in value. Generally speaking, as a culture, we are a long way from that era and that principle – wherein word was analogous with bond.

bond [bond]

  • something that binds a person or persons to a certain circumstance or line of behaviour; obligation; duty.
  • something that unites individuals or peoples into a group; covenant; tie: a bond of friendship.
  • binding security; firm assurance; a written or spoken agreement, esp a promise: my word is my bond.

Before paper contracts, littered with legal jargon, people made good on commitments based on one’s say-so and, of course, the handshake. But now, it’s more common to overpromise and underdeliver, whether in work or in private affairs. People can be found diluting their assurances and carelessly neglecting all manner of appointments and, I might argue, none worse than the ones owed to self. Instead of using language to convey guarantee and to denote good character, many times people take speech to whine, tell white lies, finger-point, talk trash, broadcast secrets or to be plain heartless.

‘What’s the big deal?’ some might ask. The answer lies simply in this: To focus on the petty is to become petty. There is no faster way to diminish your individual power and to further pollute the world with discord than to be loose with your words.

Words can serve to disparage, criminalize, or wage war. Conversely, they can just as easily serve to inspire, liberate, and make peace. To ground this in something more everyday, words are also used in testimonials, referrals and letters of recommendation. I know for myself, as I’ve gotten more personally and professionally mature, I’ve grown to be more careful with whom I choose to vouch for. Follow this circle – Because I’m taking my word more seriously, people are taking my word more seriously which makes me want to take my word, again, more seriously. As such, I use my word to champion those who also take their word seriously. Seriously!

Would you endorse a product that promised one thing and did the opposite? A service that had poor follow-through? A person that habitually drained people with their belly-aching? No ways, brah. And neither would I.

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t be that person that people don’t want to help.

Even when you’re in a situation – as I have been plenty of times – when someone has done you wrong, maybe ripped you off, threw you under a bus, or was verbally confrontational, as difficult as it may be (and boy, it can be tough), be the “bigger” person. Just because someone behaves dishonorably, it doesn’t mean you have to also! Compose yourself and handle your communication with grace. The people who matter most will remember you favorably for your tact.

To borrow from the Don Miguel Ruiz classic, The Four Agreements:

“Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.”

Utter your truths using only the highest standard, in business as well as in passing conversation. Guard your speech. Be deliberate in your choice of phrasing. Charge your language, both written and verbal, with the power to positively affect the quality of your relationships, your work, and your overall life.


Press play to enjoy one of my favorite hip-hop acts from back in the day, De La Soul. Have thoughts to share? We’d love to hear them. Share your reactions in the comment box below. And if you agree with what this post is saying – or just wish more people did 😉 then hit the share buttons below.

Rest in peace to my dad.

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One response to “The fools who shoot themselves in the foot and how to not be one of them”

  1. Irene says:

    I’ll go ahead and out myself as the teacher who used “Word” in my classroom here (lol) – and wanted to follow up with additional elements to that story. After the light-hearted mockery from my then middle school students (the topic of the class was Hip Hop Theater), I asked them what expression do THEY have today that might be similar to “Word Up / Word is Bond” that might communicate their truth, sincerity, or intention to another comrade. Their list comprised of exclamations like “ERRRY” (bay area term for “Yo”) or “I be that” but these, to me at least, fell short in truly backing someone’s worth as “Word Up/Word is Bond” or an older “I give you my word” might carry.

    Nonetheless, I believe the next generation of word givers and takers grasp this in their own way and I’m interested in learning how this value transcends from discourse to discourse.

    Thanks for swinging the light on it, Art of Hustle!

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