I had to swear an oath today. Like a real, legal, raise-your-right-hand-and-repeat-after-me oath. The fact that I had to take it wasn’t a surprise – I’d made a special trip to City Hall to swear myself in as a DDA board member (yup, I’m that cool). The thing that threw me for a loop was how surprising it felt.

I’d never sworn an oath like that before, and though my awkwardly-recited promise to the city clerk to follow the Constitution and serve the city to the best of my ability was clearly both a formality and a set of things I was going to do anyway by virtue of not being a jerkface, it felt strangely meaningful. Had I ever intended to misuse my incredibly influential one vote on a quasi-governmental board, after swearing such a formal oath, I think I’d really think twice about it.

It got me thinking about the other things I do and believe in my life that I think of as meaningful to me. Could they be even more so? Could I be more dedicated to them if I swore an oath? Possibly. Not necessarily easy things though. For instance, I don’t think it would matter one bit if I raised my right hand and promised Gunshy that I’d love and take care of him to the best of my abilities forever and ever, because that’s the easiest thing in the world and has virtually no downside. It would be like promising to eat an ice cream sandwich every day forever: both are things I’m naturally inclined to do, due to the amazing wonderfulness of ice cream sandwiches and Gunshy.

See what I mean?

But what about something I believe in but is difficult to adhere to at times? Here’s one: I think of myself as being a person dedicated to not adding new material things to the world unnecessarily. I’d like my time on the Earth to be marked by acts, not by a floating trash continent in the middle of the Pacific. So I try as hard as I can to buy everything I’m not going to consume used or recycled. There are enough buildings, cars, clothes and furniture on this planet right now to support the world for sixteen more generations of humans (facts confirmed by wikiNatalie.com), so buying something brand new feels sort of naughty to me.

That doesn’t mean I’m not naughty. While I have a genuine affinity for “things with a history,” and practically salivate my way through Goodwills and resale boutiques, I also have an unconquerable desire for an iPad. And a Chevy Volt. Oh, and I love clearance racks in department stores. So, in light of these temptations (there could be one or two more…or six or seven…but who’s counting?), I wonder if my resolve would be deeper if I swore an oath?

So I’m going to try it. Here’s my oath (you can’t see me, but as soon as my right hand is done typing 50% of the letters in this oath, I’m going to raise it and recite it. Or maybe I’ll use my left to buck the world-wide prejudice against my lefty brethren):

I, Natalie Burg, do solemnly swear to keep my footprint on this Earth small. I will commit to digging through thrift store inventories for all my purchases, not because it is cheaper or more fun (which it is, and it is), but because the items there have a uniquely high value, as they save the world from filling up with more new things. I will be the nerd who brings my own carry-out box rather than take food home in styrofoam, because, let’s face it, the fact that we’re still using styrofoam for anything is insane. My future cars will all be used, my dwellings historic, and my puppies will all come from shelters. Someday I will own an iPad, but only if I can find one refurbished. I swear to uphold these promises and be faithful to the spirit with which they were made to the best of my abilities. Forever and ever. Amen. Or something.

I’ll keep you posted on how this works. I promise.

3 thoughts on “I Do Solemnly Swear Something

  1. Amen on the styrofoam comment, Nat. I despise styrofoam. We are frequenting the Goodwill store a lot more these days, as well. Tim and I are becoming much more conscious about “stuff”. There is way too much useless “stuff” out there suffocating our planet. We aren’t full-blown tree-huggers yet but we are seriously working towards that goal. So, good for you for taking that oath. We all need to do the same.

  2. We do a great many of those things, and have for years. However, I was more interested in your ‘awakening’ by an oath.

    Oaths have been important to humans for at least thousands of years. [We have records of that, but before that they were probably important, too.] Perhaps your surprise is related to an unfamiliarity with why they carry such weight. Originally, all oaths were sworn with a reference to a Deity, with the implication that you were promising in advance to let the deity punish you as necessary for breaking the oath. That is, the bond was not just between you and another human or humans but between you and them and the deity.

    Later, other relationships were added. That is, the oath might formally be between you and the other human(s) and your deity and a larger group such as the tribe or nation.

    Even later, in places like the US, the government [as opposed to the nation] was added and you were allowed to swear oaths that didn’t include the deal with the Deity.

    So, in fact, your oath was not just a promise to yourself to do that which you would [or would want to] do anyway, but a promise to those present and any others who might be affected and various levels of government [and God, if you ended with “So help me God” which is still allowable and used in many cases]. It is, and I think, should be a very solemn undertaking, even if it does seem trivial at times.

    So, while I’m glad you’re taking an oath to leave a lighter footprint on the Earth [you and I could have a contest on that one], it is much more like New Year’s Eve resolutions than like a true, solemn oath. These oaths, in some ways, are meant to bring home to you the duty that you are about to bear [and I truly do thank you for your service, even with an “incredibly influential one vote on a quasi-governmental board” just as I do any other “good citizens” who give up their time for the betterment of their community] and to remind you of why you’re doing it. And almost all official jurisdictions use some form of “I solemnly swear to perform the duties of the office which I am about to assume and to uphold the foundational documents of the government under which it is constituted as well as the various applicable laws and statutes.”

    Anyway, thanks, too, for an interesting read.

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