Saturday, January 29, 2011

On Being Committed

Expulsion from the Garden
I’ve been thinking a lot about "being committed" recently.
Why is it that someone can be “committed” to a relationship or ideal, but also can be “committed” if he’s sent against his will to a mental institution or prison? What, if anything, do the two definitions of the word have in common?
The base word “commit” simply means “put together,” from the Latin compound word “committere” (“com” or “with,” plus “mittere” or “put”). So in a very simple sense, if one is in a “committed” relationship, he is “put together” with that other person. And I suppose that would also have to mean that if someone is committed to an institution, he is “put together” with other disturbed or distressed individuals.
But I can’t help thinking that there’s got to be a deeper significance to the word. And here’s what I’ve come up with.
When the word “commit” was first used in Old English, its connotation was that people or things were “put together for safety’s sake.” In this sense, someone is committed to an institution for their own—and society’s—safety. And, I suppose, that in the Middle Ages a woman was “committed” to a man for “safety’s” sake (the chivalrous idea of a man “taking care of” and “protecting” a woman.)
It seems to me, though, that to commit in terms of “put together for safety’s sake” can also have the connotation of something that we “entrust.” We commit something to memory which means entrusting its recall it to the memory functions of our brain. We can be committed to an institution, which means entrusting our health and well-being to that institution. We can be committed to another person, which also means we are entrusting the safety of, at least, a part of our well-being (or happiness, fulfillment, intimate secrets, etc.) to that other person. We can even be committed to an ideal or cause, which entrusts the good use of our time, efforts and perhaps even finances to that cause.
When I think of “commit” as “entrust,” then I get a sense that there’s a sacred aspect to “being committed.” As I get older and have more and more life experience to reflect upon, I see that commitment is really a black and white thing: one either is or isn’t committed. If I can easily break a commitment, then how committed was I in the first place?
So now that I’m clearer about what it means to be committed, I can spend time reviewing how good or poor I’ve I been at it up to this point in my life.

1 comment:

  1. Nice Divine Comedy picture and reference. Dante is one of my favorite authors and Gustave Dore is one of my favorite artists.