If my recent conversations with friends and clients are any indication, itwould seem that the topic of ‘commitment’ is one which certainly causes emotions tointensify and blood to flow… if not the hackles to rise! The word alone is enough tosend chills down the spine of some and to warm the hearts of others. Even the conversationabout the topic can cause temperatures to rise. And what is often not said aloud is atleast as important as what is.
Commitment tends to be easily confused with the notion of ‘obligation’: Imust/should vs. I choose/desire, meaning that if I commit to something/someone, I am nowobligated to that/them… forever… whether I like it or not. Not unlike beingtaken hostage… or a non-violent (usually and not necessarily) form of bondage. Withthis understanding as its context, is it any wonder we quake at the possibility?
We also tend to associate the word ‘commitment’ with the idea of ‘noturning back’. Can’t change your mind. No room for growth, evolution or new world views.Once the commitment is made …whether we like it or not … whether we choose to ornot … whether our (or someone else’s) values change and/or our beliefs shift, we arestuck with the outcome… forever.
The word ‘commitment’ is a nominalization – or a code word or shorthand -for an experience that it represents. Our commitments are a reflection of us; of who weare at the time that we make them. They are statements of our identity; of our sense ofresourcefulness in the moment; of who we believe ourselves to be and of who we believeourselves to be capable of becoming. They are also frequently implied and not necessarilypublic declarations of intent. I commit to raising my children based on who I believemyself to be as ‘mother’, whether I state that or not. My actions will flow from thatimplicit awareness. I commit to my parents’ care based on who I believe myself to be as’daughter’. I commit to my work based on who I believe myself to be as ’employee’. It isinevitable that if my commitment is to remain vital and alive, it must grow withme…or one of us will die.
If my commitments are not living things… if they are cast in stone orhave settled into poured concrete…they will not have movement and flow. Movement andflow are signs of growth, of vitality, of life. No movement – no life. For far toomany amongst us, our commitments have long ago become dry and brittle… without thecapacity for movement… sliding slowly into their inevitable fate either ofdishonoring the commitment itself or dishonoring of the self in its keeping.
Perhaps we’ve come to fear the idea of ‘commitment’ because we’vewitnessed – or been subjected to – its effects when it has become a rigid andinflexible process. Many of us have witnessed what happens to people when ‘commitment’ hascome to mean predictability and control. When commitment has become a means to an end, ora way of keeping something the same so that we need not fear an uncertain future. Acommitment – in word or on paper – that is no longer alive will itself begin tosap life from all that it touches.
Commitment sometimes is a Trojan Horse, carrying in its belly the hiddenand potentially lethal issues of control, predictability and stasis. If our context forcommitment – the context within which we express ourselves – does not grow as wegrow, our inevitable outcome is suppression, compression and – ultimately – adecline of body, mind and spirit. Our commitments hold the power to either give life ortake it away.
Perhaps we would be better served – as would our children – ifwe were to reconsider the power that commitment invites when we begin to recognize thatour commitments are always about us; about our view of ourselves; and that we can onlycommit to ourselves, to engage life in various contexts. If we become willing to engagelife – moment to moment – and trust that we are both able and willing to tellthe truth and trust others to do the same, our commitments will only become stronger intheir expression and more powerful in their effects. We would like to think that ifsomeone commits to us in some way, they won’t change their mind, or go away and we willhave some predictability in our lives. That we won’t have to go it alone. That the emptytimes and spaces in our lives will be filled in some way by someone outside of us. That wewill always be part of something. That we will always be in the experience of ‘together’as opposed to ‘alone’. There is no strength in this illusion, as our statistics and courtswill attest.
Our commitments, because they are an expression of who we are, hold thepower to mold and shape our world. Who we choose to be in the expression of these willdefine our future and that of our children; shape our communities, our cultures and oursystems. With what appears to be a simple declaration, we can lock things into place, holdthings at bay or we can invite potential to unfold. Like the declaration itself, it’s achoice worth paying close attention to.