If my recent conversations with friends and clients are any indication, it would seem that the topic of “commitment” is one which certainly causes emotions to intensify and blood to flow….if not the hackles to rise!
The word alone is enough to send chills down the spine of some and to warm the hearts of others. Even the conversation about the topic can cause temperatures to rise. And what is often not said aloud is at least as important as what is.
Commitment as a Reflection
Commitment tends to be easily confused with the notion of “obligation”: I must/should vs. I choose/desire, meaning that if I commit to something/someone, I am now obligated to that/them….forever….whether I like it or not. Not unlike being taken hostage….or a non-violent (usually and not necessarily) form of bondage. With this 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 “no turning 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 or not … whether our (or someone else’s) values change and/or our beliefs shift, we are stuck 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 we are at the time that we make them. They are statements of our identity; of our sense of resourcefulness in the moment; of who we believe ourselves to be and of who we believe ourselves to be capable of becoming.
They are also frequently implied and not necessarily public declarations of intent. I commit to raising my children based on who I believe myself to be as “mother,” whether I state that or not. My actions will flow from that implicit 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 is inevitable that if my commitment is to remain vital and alive, it must grow with me…or one of us will die.
Commitments That Evolve
If my commitments are not living things….if they are cast in stone or have settled into poured concrete…they will not have movement and flow. Movement and flow are signs of growth, of vitality, of life. No movement – no life. For far too many amongst us, our commitments have long ago become dry and brittle…without the capacity for movement….sliding slowly into their inevitable fate either of dishonoring the commitment itself or dishonoring of the self in its keeping.
Perhaps we’ve come to fear the idea of “commitment” because we’ve witnessed – or been subjected to – its effects when it has become a rigid and inflexible process. Many of us have witnessed what happens to people when “commitment” has come to mean predictability and control. When commitment has become a means to an end, or a way of keeping something the same so that we need not fear an uncertain future.
A commitment – in word or on paper – that is no longer alive will itself begin to sap life from all that it touches.
The Trojan Horse
Commitment sometimes is a Trojan Horse, carrying in its belly the hidden and potentially lethal issues of control, predictability and stasis. If our context for commitment – the context within which we express ourselves – does not grow as we grow, our inevitable outcome is suppression, compression and – ultimately – a decline of body, mind and spirit.
Our commitments hold the power to either give life or take it away.
Commitment as an Unfolding Experience
Perhaps we would be better served – as would our children – if we were to reconsider the power that commitment invites when we begin to recognize that our commitments are always about us; about our view of ourselves; and that we can only commit to ourselves, to engage life in various contexts. If we become willing to engage life – moment to moment – and trust that we are both able and willing to tell the truth and trust others to do the same, our commitments will only become stronger in their expression and more powerful in their effects.
We would like to think that if someone commits to us in some way, they won’t change their mind, or go away and we will have some predictability in our lives. That we won’t have to go it alone. That the empty times and spaces in our lives will be filled in some way by someone outside of us. That we will 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 courts will attest.
Our commitments, because they are an expression of who we are, hold the power to mold and shape our world. Who we choose to be in the expression of these will define our future and that of our children; shape our communities, our cultures and our systems. With what appears to be a simple declaration, we can lock things into place, hold things at bay or we can invite potential to unfold. Like the declaration itself, it’s a choice worth paying close attention to.