One evening in the mid-70’s, my wife and her siblings were complaining to their father about what seemed to them to be true poverty. Noting that most of their friends had color TVs in their homes, the children had only to point to their black and white set in the corner of the room as evidence. Without hesitation, my father-in-law began convincing the more “naively inclined” of the bunch that all they had to do was color their TV screen with crayons.
While my father-in-law’s suggestion was unlikely to be either effective or satisfactory, I believe our lives are guided by principles which do indeed lead to success and happiness. Primary among these is a commitment to personal improvement, which requires both concerted effort and constant self-appraisal.
Naturally, mere commitment alone is not sufficient in this process, since we’re all committed to something, even if it’s indifference or inactivity. Moreover, criminals are committed to an endless pursuit of the “perfect crime,” terrorists are committed to making their cause known – even at the risk of death, and some people are committed to playing in as many sports leagues as they can. I’ve worked with clients “committed” to revenge, others to Nintendo, and some who paradoxically seem committed to indecision.
The healthy commitment I speak of involves progression towards worthwhile goals. Such goals are based upon what most would regard to be sound principles of living, such as honesty, sacrifice, respect of self and others, industriousness, compassion, etc.
Unfortunately, numerous barriers impede smooth and trouble-free movement along life’s path. Human weaknesses, such as fear, idleness, low self-confidence, pride, self-doubt, and selfishness often hamper personal growth, leaving us stuck. These weaknesses blind us to the possibilities of success and contentment that await us if we will but commit, then follow through.
Fear, for example, enslaves many people and prevents them from moving forward. Fearing failure, a teenage boy may forego team tryouts for basketball; fearing intimacy, a young woman may balk at the prospect of marriage; fearing rejection, a new move-in may decide not to ask neighbors for help; fearing ridicule, a 70-year old man may hesitate to involve himself with peers at the local senior citizen center.
Failure to act is often related to a failure to commit, and can evolve into self-sabotage, leading us to conclude we are incapable of getting what we want most. This, in turn, produces feelings of discouragement, which only cause further inaction. Few things are more frustrating and discouraging, and yet at the same time more preventable, than getting stuck in a rut.
The following insight by Ernest Boyer expresses the value of commitment in a succinct, yet powerful manner:
Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never have otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issues forth from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way…
The tragedy of life is not death; the tragedy of life is to die with commitments undefined, convictions undeclared, and with service unfulfilled.
I am convinced, through both my own and others’ experience, that Boyer is absolutely correct. Whatever our excuse for refusing to make personal changes we know we should, whatever our reason for waiting another day to act on our promptings of conscience…a great strength awaits us once we commit. Opportunities and alternatives will spring up where there were none. Unseen possibilities and assistance will rush to aid and support us; it will be like trading the black and white set in for a color TV. Human limitations confine our view of life to the present; by committing ourselves to positive ideals, we access a dimension of life that can significantly improve our standing in life. As a bonus, the fruits of commitment often include enhanced feelings of self-confidence and self-worth.
Naturally, commitment does not guarantee smooth sailing…indeed, the ride may be very bumpy at times. However, my point is that, considering the alternative of being stuck – which means choosing to remain a slave to an unsatisfactory status quo (which is what led to the prompting to change in the first place) – movement will produce its own reward.
The waning of the year means resolutions for the new year are just around the corner. A thoughtful appraisal of needs for self-improvement will prove most fruitful if it is accompanied by a decision to commit, then follow through. And if you find yourself asking if it’s worth it to take the risk – to commit to forge ahead – all you need to do is look at your color TV…then consider the alternative.