In my last few posts I outlined some of my thoughts about the tendency that most of us have of somehow mentally and emotionally stepping outside of ourselves. The way we do this is twofold. First we have developed a strong psychological habit of relentless inner commentary. Our minds have been trained to relentlessly provide accompanying commentary to everything we do. Second we have developed a second habit, equally strong, of identifying with a great deal of this commentary. We don’t experience this incessant self-talk as an automated function of the mind, we experience it as me talking to myself.
For those of us thus afflicted – which is nearly all of us – the thoughts that end up in our heads dictate who we experience ourselves to be and then how we act, and ultimately who we are. In an earlier blog post I more or less explained that this conundrum was exactly why philosophy is not a luxury. Since the ideas we hold dictate our actions, and ultimately who we are, it is an utter necessity that we examine those ideas and find a way to either validate or discard them.
Once we understand this fundamental mechanism of misidentification we can begin to explore some special cases where this error affects us in adverse ways. And one that I find most compelling and life altering is in relationship to our commitments.
Most of us, at times, experience some difficulty, maybe lots of difficulty, holding to our commitments. We commit to something – a life change or a partnership perhaps – and later we find ourselves not following through on it and maybe even giving up on the commitment. How does this happen? How do we make a commitment and then not follow through on it? And perhaps more to the point, who made the commitment ? and who didn’t follow through on it? and are they the same person?
Let’s say you make a commitment to a life change of some type. You adopt some form of healthier living, for instance. You probably make that commitment in a moment of inspiration, compelled by the benefit that that change offers to you and others. Later some aspect of following through on that commitment is difficult for some reason, and you fail to do so. You do something you vowed not to do, or you do not do something that you promised yourself or others you would do.
Most of us at this point would say that the commitment we made to ourselves or to others has been broken. We would tend to think in terms of will, typically concluding that our will was too weak to follow through on our original commitment. And at that point we would either re-commit to our original intent or give up on it. Most of us would probably say that we broke our commitment when we acted against it. I would like to question that, or at least qualify it.
Certainly if we act against our committed intention, we have broken that intention. But I am not sure it is most useful to assume we have broken the commitment, although that is what we usually do. That is what I would define as stepping outside of our commitment. What happens is that we commit to something, then we act against that commitment, then we assume we have broken the commitment and pressure ourselves to recommit.
I believe that the step of assuming that we have broken the commitment is not helpful because, in that assumption, we are taking the position that we didn’t really commit and we therefore need to recommit. An alternative is to stay on the inside of our commitments even when we act against them. Yes, you acted against your commitment, but that doesn’t mean that you are not committed. You don’t need to recommit, you need to face the fact that what you committed to is more difficult to follow than you thought. Then you start acting in accordance with that commitment. There is no reason to step outside of the commitment and recommit. Our commitments can be final. We can be committed to something even when we discover that we have acted against it.
The reason that this is so important is that when we step outside of our commitment, we open up the possibility of doubting that we were ever really committed in the first place. And anytime we do that we are tempting ourselves to give up on the commitment entirely.
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