Are you being heard?

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For humanitarian Alex Sheen, the actions of one person really do matter. It’s one of his core beliefs behind his social movement campaign – because I said I would – to change the world through promises made and kept.

We’re all guilty of making promises that we don’t keep – whether in the workplace, with family or friends, or even with ourselves. So, whatever happened to your ‘word’ being your ‘bond’ and why are we today so quick to break a promise made?

It’s an intriguing question that Alex Sheen asked himself six years ago, when his dad passed away.

“My father was the type of person you could really rely on. His promises were rock solid,” Alex says. “Dad was ‘old school’, where a handshake meant something. Unfortunately, my father succumbed to cancer in 2012 and at his funeral, I delivered his eulogy which was titled – ‘Because I said I would’.”

As part of the eulogy, Alex spoke about the importance of promises, which his father excelled at keeping. It was a defining moment for the then 27-year-old, who gave out his first ‘promise card’ – a small piece of paper with a written commitment on it, passed on to the recipient of that promise.

For Alex, it was the best way he could honour his dad’s legacy and the values his father instilled within him.

“These promise cards hold people accountable to their commitments,” Alex says. “And after fulfilling that commitment, you earn that card back, which becomes a symbol of your commitment, of your respect and honour.”

By honouring his father’s legacy, a social movement was born, with this US philanthropist and change-maker founding – because I said I would – a not-for-profit aimed at improving social good by changing the world through promises made and kept.

Today, the global movement has sent over 10 million promise cards at no cost to 153 countries, with Australia ranking third for the number of promise cards sent. And this global movement shows no signs of abating. But why?

“I think it’s because people want to be part of a global movement that crosses borders, languages and cultural barriers,” Alex says. “Technology has linked us in ways unimaginable just a decade or two ago. Today, we’re all part of a globally connected community. So, the concept of people being held accountable to their promises, is resonating with a rapidly increasing number of people. It’s truly been phenomenal.”

What type of promises are people committing to?

The 33-year-old says the promises made through because I said I would range from the seemingly mundane to the esoteric, and right through to the extreme, like: ‘I will not kill myself.’

Over the past six years, Alex himself has committed to a range of promises, including:

  • Walking 245 miles across the state of Ohio in under 10 days to fulfil a promise to the three Cleveland women who were held captive for 10 years

  • Volunteering at 52 different non-profit organisations in a single year

  • Promising children with cancer trips to Disneyland and personally delivering 100 tickets

  • Driving through the night to deliver disaster relief aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy

“The common denominator for all these promises, regardless of who makes them, is that they mean something important to the person writing them. What’s important is that people matter and so too, do their promises.”

Classroom lessons

Alex is also taking the because I said I would campaign direct to schools in the US, with the not-for-profit rolling out its Character Education program for students and teachers. The program teaches children the concepts of honesty, self-control and accountability in the classroom.

“Learning English, math and science is incredibly important. But, if we are not educating the next generation to be decent human beings to one another, then what’s the point of it all?,” asks Alex.

“Character Education provides the opportunity for students to build the self-control needed to face life’s adversities. Learning things like honesty, accountability and compassion builds stronger citizens. We have launched high school chapters, provide personal development activities, and conduct assembly’s to inspire students to be a person of their word.”

Alex says the vision of because I said I would in the classroom is to create a culture of accountability and to train and encourage the next generation to be “difference-makers”, by making and keeping promises to oneself and others, and by actively engaging in humanitarian causes in schools, neighbourhoods and communities.

“By providing kids with this personal development opportunity, we’re empowering and equipping them with the skills to become a person of their word,” Alex says.

“That’s how this movement really started, with my father keeping his promises to me and my brother. The movement has since grown and we want to take it much further by creating programs that actually make a difference in communities through keeping promises.”

Be the change you wish to see

However, it’s a sad reality that everyday we are exposed to bad role models who don’t keep their promises, whether it be politicians, employers, workplace colleagues, or even friends and families. But Alex is adamant that people should care about changing the world though promises made and kept, and that change begins at the grassroots level.

“When we carry around this dangerous idea that the actions of one person doesn’t matter, then that idea costs the world. People stop voting, people don’t volunteer, people don’t show up for engagements, people don’t care. Society breaks down.

“So, keeping promises might seem simple and easy to do, but it’s not. You only need to scratch the surface to understand the effect that broken promises have on unraveling a lot of important parts of society.”

Gandhi famously said: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” It’s this sentiment that Alex whole-heartedly embraces, believing his social movement – because I said I would – is a genuine catalyst for societal change.

“What mostly changes the world are all those little things we do each and every day that we say we will do. So, our movement is about engaging with people to commit to doing the things that are right in front of them – to vote, to go watch your kids play sport, or donate blood just once a year.”

But saying and doing are two completely different things, and Alex believes people can become better at keeping their promises by personally making themselves accountable for them. And what better way of doing that than by the constant reminder of a calendar.

“Most people only use a calendar to diarise meetings. But one of the best ways people can get better with keeping their promises is to add it to their calendar, which not only reminds you about the promise but also keeps you accountable to that promise.”

Money moves and changes the world

As the founder of a not-for-profit charity and one of the world’s fastest growing social movements, Alex is only too aware of the reality that “money moves and changes the world”. But he believes society has become too obsessed with the almighty dollar, with the accumulation of wealth seemingly the sole purpose of life.

“I think we’ve forgotten how much a bag of rice or medicine – things we take for granted – can really change someone’s life. So, in that respect, money is a wonderful thing because it can solve a lot of problems in the world today. But it’s also a terrible thing because we sometimes focus on the wrong application of it.”

But that’s where financial planners can step in. When it comes to committing to promises, Alex believes planners are well placed to take a greater role with effecting real change, not just with themselves, but with their clients and in the wider community.

“Planners are in a position to have deeper conversations on topics like, ‘the purpose of life’, with their clients. I think a professional who can help someone else allocate or spend their resources, like time or money, for the greater good, is in a truly privileged position,” he says.

“And if we’re talking about ‘the purpose of life’, then charity and charitable given has to be in there somewhere. It’s one of the greatest gifts we can bestow on others.”

It’s a simple message

Alex will be sharing his personal story and mission to better humanity by changing the world through promises made and kept on the final day of the FPA Professionals Congress.

One of the key takeouts from his presentation will be the fact that the actions of one person really do matter.

“One of the most dangerous ideas today is that the actions of one person doesn’t matter. What we stand for at because I said I would is the personal responsibility and accountability of your beliefs. Unfortunately, doing what you believe in is underrated. So, it’s dangerous to believe that our actions don’t matter or we can’t make a difference, when in fact, we can.”

Another takeout from Alex’s session will be the fact that promises are difficult to keep.

“A lot of people like to ‘people please’. They willingly agree to things but fail in their commitment to uphold their promises. By doing so, we’re creating disappointment and inconvenience for others, not to mention personal reputational damage. So, think before you leap, and be patient when it comes to making promises.”

And finally, although it might sound clichéd, Alex challenges planners to think about how they want to leave their own personal legacy – whether it’s a life of regrets and missed opportunities, or a life of fulfilment and engagement.

“I’ll let you in on a little secret, a lot of because I said I would is not actually all that innovative,” Alex confides. “I’m actually saying a lot of things people already know. Our mission has a simple message about making promises and keeping them. It’s not rocket science.

“Through a culture of honesty and accountability, we can all become stronger and compassionate citizens of the world, capable of truly making a difference with our lives and the lives of those around us. Why? because I said I would!”

Alex Sheen is a keynote speaker at the 2018 FPA Professionals Congress in Sydney (21-23 November). He will be speaking in the third keynote session on Friday 23 November.

taken from ‘Money & Life’, Financial Planning Association of Australia