Commitment: What does that really mean?

We can all pull out a dictionary and find that the word commitment is a promise that we make to do something, or to give something. The picture above says it all really but let’s look at it a different way. A synonym for the word commitment is the word pledge. I like the word pledge in particular because a pledge is a commitment by solemn or “serious” promise. I don’t know how to make any other kind of promise except for a solemn/serious promise. I mean, who makes a promise jokingly? It would definitely not be a promise then, right? For me, commitment was interchanged with pledge my entire life. I never thought there was a difference between the two. I never saw my mother make a distinction between the two. But now I’m learning that others have another definition for the words commitment and promise. There seems to be a second part to the definitions mentioned, a part that provides an “out”. This known but not said contingency of being committed, or honoring a promise, until discomfort sets in. But why is this? Why this struggle to honor a promise that we already made? I can only think of a few reasons and maybe they all are actually rooted in one reason:

  • Fear. Fear that if a promise is honored, everything will change and possibly for the worse.
  • Selfishness. Fulfilling the promise won’t make us happy so why follow through if we are not going to be happy?
  • Indifference. The mentality of, when in that moment, we just “don’t wanna” because we’re just “not feelin’ it”. Sometimes people fall back on the excuse of “being in the moment” and the moment is not suited for keeping one’s word?
  • Difficulty. It is too difficult, troublesome, bothersome, or more effort than we originally intended and therefore will not follow though with our original promise.
  • No payoff or recompense. Why follow through on a promise if we aren’t getting anything back in return? Why help if we won’t be helped?

How are any of these above listed reasons good reasons to break a promise? How are any reasons that I have not listed good enough reason to break a promise? Sure, there are extenuating circumstances and sometimes you make a promise you were never prepared to keep because you wanted to be nice or just end the conversation. Or maybe even finding out that fulfilling the promise would harm someone else vs. help. But let’s put those special circumstances aside for the time being. Because people are uncomfortable for one reason or another at a particular moment can’t we still honor a promise? Shouldn’t we? And what about the bigger picture?

I like to think of making a commitment similar to setting a goal. For instance, I have a goal in mind to give my grandmother a better life living with me than she would have possibly had at a long-term care facility. But taking care of a 90-year old person suffering from dementia and other limitations is a tough gig. Especially because I work full-time, have a husband that I cannot neglect (due to the commitment made on our wedding day – better or worse, etc.), and I have a blind, diabetic dog who needs constant care as well. Not to mention my mother who helps a great deal in the care of my grandmother and the worry I have thinking about the strain she is under when caring for her mother. I can easily break my commitment to my grandmother. Who would blame me? I have friends who say they “could never do what I do” and are already set to pay whatever they need to pay to make sure their elderly parents are taken care of in a facility. We have facilities all across America for a reason, so it wouldn’t be a shock to move my grandmother into one of them. Why not break the commitment? Well, first of all, I remember my goal. I remember why I am doing what I am doing. I remind myself of my grandmother’s quality of life and I put myself in her shoes and wonder what I would want my loved one to do. I would be petrified in a facility if I had limited memory, mobility, language, freedom and limited control over my life. What would be the point of living if the life was no longer mine to live? And that is what I try so hard to keep true – my word, my promise, my commitment – to others. But maybe that’s just me. Clearly other people have different intentions when they make a commitment. All I can do is remind the people in my life, the people who have made promises to me, of their original reason/goal for making the commitment. And of course not judge or fault them for escaping through that back door anyway.

So how do I find my strength and love in life when it gets hard to bear? When I feel like I’m fighting this battle alone and the support system I thought I had wants out of their commitment? I fall back to why I made that promise, why I made that goal, and then I breathe and continue to follow through. Searching for as much help as I can so I can complete my journey and fulfill my commitment. If you take that necessary breath, maybe you’ll find that the support system you thought was ready to quit, really just needed time to rejuvenate or simply vent some frustration, before s/he could soldier on with you. I work on sitting through the discomfort of silence so I can allow the other  person(s) in my support group to take a much needed breath as well.

4 thoughts on “Commitment: What does that really mean?

  1. I asked myself the same question. What does promise and commitment really mean and why would a person promise unless they actually mean to follow through with it. I was told that he does not want to get married to me just because he promised he would. Here, “promise” seems to be interchangeable with “told”, “maybe”. He left me and I was left wondering whether my definition of commitment was different from many.

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    • It’s amazing how lax people have become with their words without having integrity in what they say. I try to believe that the reason people interchange their words is because they are scared for one reason or another to tell the truth vs. being hurtful and inconsiderate on purpose. I too was engaged to someone (we were together for 10 yrs) and then one day, he stopped calling. So now I tend to call people out when I see they are sending mixed signals. I’ve learned that words aren’t the whole story. Behaviors give us insight too. After all, actions speak louder than words, right? The work is in trying to decipher both. But it still surprises me every time.

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  2. I’m going to have to learn to decipher words and behaviors too. I’m sort of weak in that area maybe…not in the receiving or feeling part, but in the belieiving and trusting in what I feel or instinct as they call it. I am currently confused and wary of what is instinct and what is mind-convincing me of something. A movie I watched or a book I read (can’t really point it out now) had this dialogue: “People think something, say something else, and do something completely different”. We are such ‘evolved’ species…

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