I've Got Issues With Commitment

by Janelle A. Ruley | 2/19/98 6:00am

I've got issues with commitment.

As do, I think, many other Dartmouth students. I'm not talking about relationship-type commitment. What I mean, rather, is commitment to organizations or activities. I think that we students get so caught up in the notion of commitment that we forget to stop and analyze why we joined an organization in the first place.

Perhaps I'm generalizing too much. Fair enough. I'll look at this at a personal level. The organization in which I am most invested is currently undergoing a process of refocusing its agenda to reflect a movement away from disparate projects, and toward fulfilling its self-determined responsibility to those it represents. This effort is valiant and worthwhile, and I applaud both the leaders and the members of the organization for their continued efforts. And I thank external parties for offering assistance and perspective.

But I do not believe that this organization -- or any other -- can take any real steps toward achieving its goal without first asking of every member the question of why. Why are you currently a member? Why did you initially join? Why do you continue to go to meetings? Why?

To quote Neitzche: "[S]he who has a why can endure any how." If you cannot reconcile for yourself why, then you cannot begin to start making changes in your organization's current direction.

I've asked myself why -- several times, in fact. And the reasons I come up with consistently number three: two reasons are individual, and the third is my internal, inexplicable obligation to and respect for fulfilling the commitment I made last spring. I joined this organization initially because I saw it as a mature, forward-looking body through which I could make big changes. I joined because I wanted to articulate the voice of my peers.

Why am I still a member? Stronger than the presence of the two aforementioned individuals in this organization, my reason for not quitting is my unswerving commitment to commitment. I am in this organization to represent a group of people, and I do not take that charge lightly (perhaps I am going a little overboard here, but, on an ideological level, my point is solid). I regard commitment highly enough to sacrifice "why" for it.

And therein lies the problem.

If my reason why includes nothing about myself, then perhaps I have no business being a part of this body. If I go back to meetings every week for other people, then maybe I am selling myself and the organization short. If I continue to be a part of this organization solely because of a commitment I made last spring, then clearly I've got issues.

I know that I am ineffectual in a salient, measurable way in the process my organization is currently embarking on if my presence in the body is not because I want to be there. Only when I can say "I am part of this group because I like it, I respect it, I have fun participating in i, and I believe in it," can I truly start aiding in the change process. On that note, I'd also like to add that I think it is great to join an organization with the intention of changing it, but I caution those who fall into this category to ask yourself why you want to change it before you throw yourself in blindly.

If you find that you belong to an organization because of other people, that's OK. And if you find that you belong because of power or title or position, that's OK too. Just recognize that and be genuine with yourself about it. If you find no reasons why, then maybe it's time to remove yourself. As I've said before, someone will replace you. It is unfair to the organization (and to yourself, too) for you to stand in the way of someone else just because of a commitment you made.

My biggest problem in not being able to answer "why" with reasons that are within myself is that I lack perspective. When I'm on campus, I am far too immersed in the day-to-day functions of life and getting things done to step back and ask myself the important questions. I simply don't have the perspective I need to make the decisions I want to make.

And so I urge all of you to ask yourselves "why." I think it's OK not to find an answer -- in fact, that may be indicative of what you should do in the future. I urge you too to reevaluate the weight you place on the notion of commitment. If commitment is not an overriding factor in your participation in an organization, so much the better. But if it is indeed, then I hope that you take some time out to examine the question of why. I highly recommend skating by yourself on Occom Pond or talking with a trusted friend over tea.