March 26, 2018

Are Commitments Still Important?


I've told the story before how several years ago I happily agreed to help one of my daughters move back to Phoenix from LA. I pitched in with last minute packing and driving the rental truck. She is her father’s daughter. Arrangements had been made well ahead of time for people to load the truck, take a TV and microwave she didn’t want to move, pick up a car she was donating to a charity, disconnect the cable, and do the final walk-through of the apartment. Each of these was reconfirmed one or two days beforehand.

Well, things didn't go quite as arranged. On the day of the move, the packers had dropped her from their schedule. The fellow who was going to pick up the microwave decided after several text messages that he didn’t really want it enough to come get it. For some reason the women who was getting the TV thought she was to pick it up on Sunday, not Friday.

The cable company had no record of the pick up of the equipment. The tow truck to pick up the car was late. Even the apartment representative was 45 minutes later than the agreed upon time.

Do you see a pattern? We certainly did. It was the absolute unimportance of keeping commitments. Not one apologized, except for a few, insincere “Sorry about that.” The insensitivity to the inconvenience, and even the anger shown when we suggested their actions were harmful taught us a very valuable lesson. 

Keeping a commitment used to be a rather serious matter. It was understood that a promise had been made. A commitment meant you and I could trust each other to do something at a specific time or in a certain way. 

Today, it seems more likely that a commitment is considered  flexible. When it suits the person or business that made the promise is when it will be fulfilled. I can’t begin to detail the reasons why commitments are not that important anymore to an increasing segment of society. But, I would like to take a stab at discussing why I believe it is a mistake.

A commitment kept shows respect for others. When a promise is made to do something, there is another person or business that is counting on you. Mae West once said, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.” To make a commitment and then treat it as not very important, or flexible in its execution, says the other person isn’t as valuable as you. It says your convenience and your needs must always come first.

A commitment kept shows respect for yourself. You are putting your personal integrity and reputation on the line. You are not willing to fail someone else who is depending on you. You want to be known as someone who delivers what he promises. You believe you are able to take responsibility as it affects others.

A commitment kept shows an understanding of your time and energy. Sometimes I have over-committed myself. I think I can do more than I can. I have promised more than I can deliver based on my available time or abilities. I don’t want to say “No” to someone who asks me for something. But, I have had to learn my limits. The amount of time and energy I have is finite. A commitment that I can’t keep is much worse than no promise at all.

A commitment kept is essential for success. From a business perspective, a company or a salesman that promises something will happen or a product will be delivered on a specified date will soon be out of business if that commitment isn’t kept. Trust and a good reputation are essential in business. They are earned when everyone's interests are considered and respected.




The same premise exists for an individual. My personal reputation, the belief in my trustworthiness and my honesty, must be above question. When I make a promise the other person must believe that I will do everything in my power to keep that promise. Trust is a very fragile thing, and once it has been broken there's a chance it may never be fully repaired.

A commitment is a test of that trust. Whether it is as a caregiver to a family member or friend, a promise of a ride to the store, fulfilling an offer to babysit, or something as serious as properly managing someone's financial well-being, keeping that commitment is paramount.  

I’m afraid the experience in Los Angeles wasn’t an isolated instance. Think about your own day-to-day life. Did the doctor really intend on seeing you at the time set for your appointment, or is any time with an hour of that time acceptable? Is the car really going to be repaired for the estimate you received? Will you definitely e-mail the information I need today like you promised?

It doesn’t help to get angry when someone else doesn’t understand all that a commitment implies. You only have the power to not patronize that merchant again or avoid a person who has misled you. You can’t change that person’s understanding of responsibility.

But, each of us has the ability to understand what commitments stands for and to keep them. If a promise is made a promise will be kept. It is that simple. Even if you may be the only person doing so.



24 comments:

  1. Bob, I see why you’re having such a problem with the issue of commitment. Your value system is simply not in tune with today’s society. In your post, you used a lot of old-fashioned words like trust, honesty, integrity, respect, promise and reputation. Today, society marches to a beat much different than what our grandparents taught our parents and they, in turn, taught us. Society has a different slogan these days and, unless I counted wrong, you only used that word once: ME. Yes, in today’s world, it’s all about ME.

    Certainly, my tongue is tucked in my cheek, but only slightly. Somewhere along the line, our society has put aside the values that our generation grew up with and, in my personal opinion, no good has come of it. Contractors who don’t return calls, cashiers whose only words to customers are “$27.62” and the standard (and often lifeless) “have a nice day,” insurance agents who don’t respond to emails, parents who coddle their children when the principal suspends them – I’ve witnessed every one of these examples.

    As our children were growing up, we would discuss anything and everything around the dinner table. It was a place to tell stories and build character. During the kids’ school years, my husband and I often felt like salmon swimming upstream, bucking societal norms as we insisted on their doing the right thing, being kind to others, keeping their promises. Our children learned commitment in different ways. Our son, who joined the local volunteer fire department the day he turned 16, needed to be out the door when his pager went off and it didn’t matter whether he had just sat down to supper or crawled into bed after a long day. Our daughter had to pass up fun social events on many occasions due to team practice and games. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you promise to be somewhere, be there. If you make a commitment, stick to it. That's how my husband and I were raised and that's how we tried to raise our kids. At some point, I believe that many parents (not all, of course) simply stopped taking the time required to parent and teach their children the values that would serve them and society well – and now we’re all dealing with the fallout.

    So, as for your question as to whether or not commitments are still important, I’d have to say yes, definitely – at least to a few determined salmon trying desperately to buck the flow.

    I hope you and Betty had a wonderful weekend!

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    1. Your comment is the perfect counterpoint to my thoughts.

      Thank you for your well wishes. We return later today after a very special time along the California coast with good friends.

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  2. Good morning Bob, as you know from many of my posts at RJsCorner I am a firm believer in commitments. I agree with all your reasons why they are important. But, (I do have a lot of buts don't I?) I do think that is is often a case of "selective memory" We certainly remember the cases where commitments are not kept but do we always in the same vein remember those that are kept?

    I generally am pretty pleased with the service I get from my chosen vendors. If they are going to be late they almost always call to let us know. I remember this being the case with our furnace repair guy, our plumber, and the carpet cleaners in recent weeks. My uRV guy always calls for permission to do something he hadn't originally estimated. But, then there was the ENT office who made us wait for an hour and a half beyond our appointment for no obvious reason.

    Maybe keeping commitments is more a Midwestern thing than a Southwestern one? I know when I lived in Mexico for a few months I was exposed to "tomorrow", or the Spanish version, that meant commitments were often delayed...

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    1. The commitment to keeping one's word may be regionally influened, but I tend to think of it as more age-related. Of course, any comments are generalizations and not true in all instances. I trust my children and grandkids to do what they say they will do.

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  3. I feel that keeping commitments keeps society running, which is scary because of the increasing lack of commitment showing up. Commitment is learned very young and that increasingly the parents of young kids are not actively teaching the values kids need to learn. Some of these parents don't know themselves and can't teach their kids what they don't know. It's not that parents are working; plenty of working parents managed to teach their kids in our time, and some still do. Maybe parents being friends instead of parents contributes to it. Maybe it's the idea that the precious kids should be protected and cherished and kept from the hard stuff in life. In some cases, "what difference does it make?" is the underlying idea. Whatever, I really see a generational difference and it must begin at home.

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    1. I think of all children now getting "participation" awards so every child feels special. I think there is a risk in that approach: hard work and dedication don't result in any different level of recognition.

      Commitment seems similar: Doing what you say to the best of your ability should make a difference.

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  4. When a 'friend' makes a commitment and doesn't follow through, they are no longer a friend unless they have a very good excuse. I think the worst offenders of not keeping commitments are in the medical profession. When was the last time your doctor was ready for you when YOU were there for your appointment on time? That makes me crazy. And, the lack of professionalism and honesty in our country has diminished beyond my imagination in the past 2 years!
    b

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    1. Ditto.

      I will give the doctors a pass. They have to be so overscheduled to make a living under our stupid medical system that multiple appointments are necessary, I am afraid.

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  5. It isn't just commitment that is causing angst for so many of us anymore; that seems to be pervasive throughout society. It is also a general lack of respect for anything by many people, as well as outright hatred for anyone that doesn't agree with ones particular platform. I witnessed it in many videos from the marches this weekend, filled with "my way or the highway" people paid for and supported by certain groups with an agenda. How about the many physical attacks on individuals who supported a particular candidate after that candidate won an important election? I'm not sure what we do to right the ship, but a lack of commitment is just a symptom of something far worse that has invaded society.

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    1. I thought 2017 was a real test for us, and we did not score well. 2018 is shaping up to be even more problematic.

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  6. I am a commitment guy but maybe it's a personality thing. I raised 2 daughters pretty much the way Mary~Reflections described above and both my wife and I tried to instill the same values in both of them, they are now in their 30s. One of them is accomplished and meets commitments as faithfully as my wife and I do but my other daughter makes a commitment (to us anyway) it's a different story. When she was young there were consequences and many battles but now that she is an adult we have learned that it's best to treat a commitment from her as something she might do but don't count on it. In most other ways she is a wonderful, loving, and caring person, perhaps no one is perfect. We live in hope that one day she'll step up on the commitment side of things and there has been improvement as she's entered her 30s, maybe one day. I do think that blaming the parents for "kids today" might be the easy thing to reach for but there's only so much parents can do.

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    1. Interesting how you kids have followed different paths to this point even though they came from the same place.

      That is a good example of the diversity of human nature, uncontrollable at some point by the best intentions of others.

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  7. Without going on a rant, I will just say I agree with all of you in saying commitment is more rare than it used to be. And it’s not something every one of our kids picked up, although we have been sticklers about it. I suppose society influences whether people think it’s important or not regardless of what we teach.

    I worked for a company that actually sold commitment to product and lead time and the response was amazing. We were in an industry where lead times were consistently not met, and when our dealers realized we honored our commitments, we grew like fast weeds. Unfortunately, we started to cannabalize the products of the corporation that owned us, they decided they could do what we did and solve that problem, and they closed our subsidiary and pulled it all into the mother ship. Needless to say, they couldn’t do it as well, because they lost focus on the commitment part. We were all dismayed to lose our much loved division, but we still talk about that being the best company any of us have ever worked for all these years later.
    —Laurel

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    1. I'm afraid that larger too often equals "efficiency" at the cost of local commitment and dedication. There is no going back to the way the economy used to operate. That means we have to do our very best individually to make what we say be a firm promise.

      Thanks, Laurel.

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  8. I don’t think the change in the social contract with respect to keeping commitments is a generational thing so much as a consequence of certain major societal changes we have seen in the last fifty years. One is the flow of population from rural areas and small towns into urban and suburban areas. As people people have left their local networks of friends and extended family to move into cities, often loneliness and a sense of alienation is the consequence. When most people that you see everyday are strangers and there is little reciprocity, there may not be the same sense of obligation to treat people with the same level of consideration that you give to your interconnected local community. Another major factor is relocating for work and school many times over a lifetime. That makes it harder to develop strong social bonds. A third factor is the rise of multinational corporations as the dominant eceonomic driver. Although there are exceptions, huge corporations are not generally known as models of social responsibility, and that can result in an overall sense of disenfranchisement- a sense of “why bother; I can’t influence anything anyway.”

    On the whole, I am pretty impressed with Gen-Xers and Millennials, and am more inclined to blame our generation (the Boomers) and our parents’ generation for the mess the world is in.

    Jude

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    1. You make some excellent points. I don't think keeping commitments is as important today for some of the reasons you mention. Unless it is from lack of modeling proper behavior, I'm not sure I agree that Boomers or older people should shoulder much of the blame. To not follow through on a promise is a decision made on the individual level, something that can happen at any age level.

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  9. I tried to teach my kids "my word is my bond" as a key way to live their lives. They are grown and teaching their kids this lesson. But it is hard for them now as all their peers are me me no consequence people. My wife says this breakdown of personal morals where we make kids responsible is a big part of the school shooting situations.... .

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  10. And the whole No Fault Divorce process where anyone can and many do just walk away from a long time commitment to their family is crazy. This teaches kids that family does not matter as much as Fun for the individual.....

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    1. "My word is my bond" is a cliche but an important one to teach our kids and live that way ourselves. Personal integrity is too easily lost and very hard to get back.

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  11. Back in the 70s, I had a friend who valued me very little. We would make a plan to meet. I had three kids and she had four, so I corralled mine and got them wherever on time. She would show up thirty minutes later. I allowed my children to be peeved at her kids after a while of putting up with this. Her excuse was that she had to clean up and straighten house and do dishes before she left. I left my house a wreck but could have done better if I had not tried to keep my commitment to her.

    Another woman had a five-month-old baby when mine was nine-months-old. I would arrive at her house at the appointed time and toot my horn. Nothing. So, I would get out of the car and go to the door. The woman was still in bathrobe and baby was not ready either. She said she was not ready because she wanted to let the baby sleep longer. Finally, I pointed out I was doing her a favor by taking her shopping, AND that my baby had to be awakened to get to her house at the time SHE told me she would be ready. I told her the next time she needed a ride, to get ready and call me, and then I would get my baby up, take my shower, and come get her. She objected, saying that would waste her time and baby would be hungry and poopy after waiting so long. I then asked her if she thought I liked wasting my time waiting anymore than she would.

    When I really noticed that strangers started taking commitments lightly was with the advent of the cell phone. People would tell me they would call from their cell and let me know when this afternoon they would be at my house so I could give them whatever or sell it to them. So, I could wait from noon to five with no idea when they planned to show. Finally, I got in the car a few times and sat in a parking lot just so I would not be home. I did not have a cell phone, so they could call all day and never get me. I usually waited for about three hours, so I did not just try to thwart their efforts to call me all afternoon.

    I have stayed home for all sorts of people who never showed up or showed up late. One guy wanted to come by at noon and take me to eat lunch. He did not answer his cell phone and showed up seven hours later and said he got busy. Needless to say, that ended that very day.

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    1. When I said I waited for three hours, I meant I waited at home, not in a parking lot. Mostly, I would go ahead and go shopping and then when I had multiple calls on my house phone, I would call them and tell them I waited three hours and had to go buy groceries or whatever I did.

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    2. What happens when a commitment is broken has a ripple effect. Both the person expecting something and the person making the promise are affected when that commitment is broken, or viewed as flexible. I think that may be at the core of the issue for many: the concept of time is different. There are those who believe 2pm means 2 hours after noon, while others think 2pm means sometime in the afternoon.

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  12. This is a very thought-provoking post and discussion, Bob. My own take is that keeping commitments is related to the emphasis put on community relative to the emphasis put on the individual. Those who have a sense of community realize that when they don't keep a commitment, there are all kinds of ripples out from that action that create a lot of problems for a lot of people. But our society tends to emphasize the individual over the community (freedom and individual rights over commitments?). When I was teaching, I noticed that students saw themselves as in individual relationships with me, the teacher, rather than as part of a class that was a community. When I told them that their class participation grade would be a reflection of how much they contributed to the learning of others in the class, their reaction was generally that such a grading system was "unfair."
    I am lucky to live in rural Maine where the sense of community is still relatively strong. Earlier in the winter, one of the firebricks in my woodstove (my primary source of heat) broke. I called the stove shop that I had purchased the stove from and they advised replacing the brick before I continued to use the stove. The problem was that I didn't think I had the manual dexterity to remove and replace the bricks by myself. The shop promised to send someone out on a service call, but on the day they were scheduled to come, we had a major blizzard. I fully expected they would have to cancel and was amazed (and very, very grateful) when they drove through the storm and up my unplowed dirt road to keep their commitment. -Jean

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    1. Great story, Jean, and a perfect example of how important keeping a commitment can be. Though not always as serious as your situation, the minor day-to-day ignoring of promises can be extremely frustrating. Of course there are instances where someone has to break a commitment. But, when that becomes the norm rather than the exception the individual and the community suffer.

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