August 8

Making and Changing Commitments

August 8, 2016

Personal Growth

I participated in a Skype call with a man who looked utterly exhausted and miserable. “You look terrible,” I said.

“I’m sick,” he said.

“Then why are you not in bed, resting?” I said. “Why are you talking to me?”

“Because a couple of days ago I agreed to meet you at this time.”

“And do you have other calls to make today? And visits with people?”

“Yes,” he said, looking at the floor and obviously not delighted at the prospect.

“You’re sick,” I said. “Why not just email them all—it would take very few minutes—and tell them that you’ll get back to them when you’re well?”

He explained that in his childhood family, making a commitment was a kind of blood oath. You never, never broke a commitment. Your word was your bond, and so on.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked.

“I’m an accountant.”

“You gather a great deal of information from your clients, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“And then you tell them how much they’ll have to pay in taxes, or what they should do for investment, and so on, yes?”

“Yes.”

“You essentially give them your word about what they need to do. You make a commitment to give them the best advice possible.”

“Yes.”

“So let’s imagine that you’ve already given your advice to a client, and you’ve committed to file his taxes, for example, for a specific amount. But then he discovers another entire box of receipts and other information. Would that change your decision?”

“Of course.”

“Same here,” I said. “That’s the whole purpose of continuing to gather information: to change our decisions. I once committed to quite a number of calls and other contacts with some people, but suddenly I was scheduled for serious surgery that would make it impossible for me to communicate clearly with people for several weeks. Should I have kept my commitment, or was I justified in changing it?”

“Hmmm, I think I’m getting the point.”

“I hope so. We make commitments to do things based on the best information we have at the time. That's all we CAN do. If the information changes, sometimes the commitments have to change also. You were not this sick when you made your present commitments—to me and others—but now you are. New information. Wisdom dictates that you change your course of action, or you could get even sicker.”

“I think I can do this differently now.”

All we can do is our best. Sometimes that capacity changes, so then we have to change our promises or commitments. We can do this because we are wisely using new information, not because we have no integrity, nor do we need to struggle with guilt and shame, which further diminish our capabilities.

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