Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Meaning of Commitment

Maybe it was the most recent celebrity micro-marriage, and then again, maybe it was the protracted labor negotiations between those who put on the show called professional basketball. I’m not sure where it started but it hit me one day that the whole topic of commitment has been skewed so far away from its original moorings that it is hard to find in our society today.

Commitment has always been an essential value in my life. I was raised to be thoughtful before making a promise, but then once made, to be tenacious in fulfilling it. My father was big on perseverance, and he never missed a chance to push that value deeper and deeper into my soul. And it didn’t take long for me to realize that the whole idea of commitment presupposed that, at some point, the commitment would entail continuing when you felt like quitting. There is a real difference between a commitment, which is a promise or an agreement, and commitment, which is the value of sticking to your promise even when it hurts.

There’s an old motivational humor piece that might shed some light on this area. If you order ham and eggs for breakfast here’s what you’ll find: the chicken made a contribution, but the pig made a commitment!

Today commitment, or perhaps better, the value of perseverance under trial and pain, is in short supply. Marriages now might last no longer than a good cup of coffee simply because one of the spouses just “isn’t feeling it anymore.” And since when does someone making millions playing a game feel they have the right to keep thousands of common folks from making a paycheck, and millions more from enjoying some entertainment simply because they no longer like the agreement they made a few years back? What is wrong with us? How come we can’t keep promises? Are we becoming so addicted to happiness that we flinch and flee at the first sign of adversity?

From my seat in the bleachers of society here’s what I see. I believe we are losing an important value today that undergirds the whole area of commitment. That value is the good of the many being of greater importance than the pleasure of self. Commitment will mean that, at some point, I will need to keep my promise simply because it is better for others if I do, even if it hurts me. That’s true of marriage and it is especially true if you have children. The best thing a father can do for his kids is keep his commitment to their mother, to stay in the marriage and act the part of a loving, providing, protecting husband.

Unfortunately, we are watching our society become one where the individual trumps the group. A few years ago we were told to look out for #1, to pull our own strings, and to focus our lives on our own wellbeing. Well, guess what? We’ve gotten really good at all that, and now we have a society that is increasingly self-centered and pain-averse. If the wellbeing of the individual is the highest societal value, then the society is certain to dissolve into a million parts. As soon as the good of the group brings pain to the individual, most will opt out of their commitment in order to pursue personal happiness. Only as the individuals are hardy enough to put self aside in favor of doing the hard things it takes to be a successful nation will any society flourish.

Right now, on so many fronts, we are at a crucial decision point. And the decision isn’t political or ideological. I think it is personal and ethical. It is a decision that each of us has to make, and then become courageously committed to. It is a decision to be people that are willing to make individual sacrifices for the good of others, for the good of the marriage, the family, the neighborhood, and the country. And of course you would expect me to preach this kind of thing given that my Boss once left glory to take on flesh so that He could sacrifice His own life in order to bring forgiveness and eternal life to us. Now that’s what I mean by commitment. 


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