“I will end hunger on this planet by the end of the year. That is my solemn commitment.”
I watched the speaker, a well dressed man in his late twenties, emote with passion and conviction. It was the final hour of a three day workshop described by the promotional flyer as a new level of mastery in creating a future that fulfills what matters most to you. Clearly, I thought to myself, he had taken the blurb literally. But still, he was earnest and meant well. That counted for something, didn’t it?
After the ovation died down, next to speak was an equally stylish young woman who in a tremulous but determined voice, promised “I am going to make poverty disappear and eliminate homelessness in our country.”
Plainly, she meant what she said, and the audience clapped loudly in support despite the audaciousness of her declaration. She was so very sincere, it was endearing to see her literally flush with intensity.
Amid the din a nondescript, middle-aged man stood up to make his commitment. He seemed unremarkable; yet his voice was steady and convincing. Without fuss he introduced himself as an employee of a local pizza parlor. “I make pizzas,” he said, “And I will try my best to make the best pizza I can for every customer, every day.”
He sat down to subdued response. Ho hum, what’s the big deal about making pizzas, seemed to be the reaction. But I, for one, had a tear in my eye. The light year of difference between grandiosity and humility was apparent, and I saw in the contrasting shares, showy and modest, how often I had bowed to the former.
I’ve attended dozens of self-improvement seminars since that learning moment, as participant and leader. I’ve learned that promises without plans to achieve them are hollow. I’ve learned that for a commitment to be real, it has to be measurable; there are benchmarks along the way from declaration to realization that must be met. Otherwise, it’s palaver and not to be taken seriously.
Today, the very idea of an empty promise bothers me. I cannot over-estimate the importance I attach to keeping one’s commitment. It’s a test and a testament; a gauge of a person’s authenticity. Perhaps I’m being a bit rigid about this, but I see an unfulfilled commitment as an indication of being less than what I claim to be; an assessment of whether or not my behavior is in alignment with the values to which I subscribe. As they say, am I walking the walk!
A friend of mine who leads men’s groups at weekend retreats reminds participants, 99% of a commitment is easy; 100% is difficult. There’s giggling when he adds, a commitment is like a plate of bacon and eggs: the chicken is involved; the pig is committed. But the simile rings true.
Why commit to anything? Why not play it safe? Because completing a commitment is an indication of character; it gives me a sense of achievement regardless how small the accomplishment.
More importantly, it wakes up the energy—the life force—that is the gift with which we have been blessed. I think of commitments as the lights along the pathway toward a complete life, each fulfilled promise authenticating who we claim to be.