Friday, January 01, 2010


(News-Herald, December 31) New Year’s Eve is my least favorite holiday. Regret, disappointment, betrayal, sadness, disaster, stupid choices—too many of the ugliest snapshots of my life are time-stamped December 31.
But I like the idea of resolutions. I like the idea of renewed commitment to something, despite the fact that most of us don’t do commitment well.
We often approach commitment focusing too much on the end point. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that taking a clear-eyed view into the future is bad. The world includes too many people who are surprised that when they stick their metaphorical tongues in metaphorical fans, they suffer metaphorical hurt.
But commitment is not about “if.” Commitment is not about, “ I will look at the various obstacles and if I think I can beat them and if I think this will turn out okay, then I guess I will try to do it.”
There is no “if” in commitment. Commitment is more “of course.” “Of course we’re going to do this. There are some obstacles, so let’s figure out how to get past them.” We don’t say, “I’ll eat food today if I can find the time.” We say, “Of course I’m eating today. I’ll just find the time.” Commitment changes “Will I do this?” to “How will I do this?”
This is what people are complaining about when they talk about the fuzziness of modern marriage. Too many folks say, “Yes, I’ll stick with you if we can figure out how to beat that obstacle” instead of “Of course we’re staying together. Let’s work on how to deal with the obstacles.”
Organizations do the same. “Of course we’ll help you, valued customer. Let me just figure out how to solve this” is not “We’ll try to help with this problem if it falls within the list of issues I’m looking at on my computer screen.”
“If” is the enemy of commitment. So is “what if,” as in “What if the other job would be better” or “what if a different person would make me happier.” Making a commitment to Option A always means kissing Options B through Z goodbye. If you insist on keeping your options open, the only commitment you’ve made is to keeping your options open.
Other impulses get in the way of commitment. Keeping your choices hidden so that nobody can critique them is not commitment. Pretending you didn’t try in order to avoid looking foolish in failure is not commitment. That’s one more reason for marriage ceremonies to be held in front of friends and families—it’s what you do if you really mean it. And if your resolution is to lose ten pounds, but you aren’t telling a soul—well, you’ve already decided you’re going to have that piece of cheesecake. Your real commitment is to your goal of not looking foolish.
It’s not that commitment guarantees success. It doesn’t. In life, speed bumps and brick walls look much the same from a distance. Often you don’t know which is which until you try to get past it. If you make it past, it was just an obstacle; if you didn’t, it’s a dead end.
You have to make the commitment to find out. Standing at a comfortable distance making a judgment about which you’re facing, because if it’s going to be a dead end or even just plain hard, you aren’t going to go any further—well, that’s not a commitment. When you commit to go the distance, you don’t get to now how long the distance actually is.
Non-commitment has ultimatums (I won’t stay with you unless you serve me on silver plates); commitment has limits (I will stay here all week, but if I don’t get any food, I will collapse). Non-commitment says “I will try as long as I feel like it.” Commitment says, “I will keep going as long as I can.”
If commitment guaranteed success, everybody would leap whole-heartedly into the commitment pool. But committing guarantees either real success or undeniable failure— and that’s what many people don’t want to face. (As Yoda said, “There is no try. Only do—or do not.”) So they pick the luke-warm not-so-commitment and hope they get lucky.
Our commitments define us, both the ones we make consciously (I will walk five miles every single day) and the ones we make without thinking (I will stay safe and comfortable). Spending at least one day out of the year thinking about them couldn’t be a bad thing.

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