Without me realizing it commitment has become important in my daily life. Over time, it has determined the way I think about society. I never really thought of it conciously, nor have I studied the concept or read about it before. Maybe now is the appropriate time to do so.
I don’t use books or theories and what they have to say about commitment. I want to start from my own experience. I want to describe what commitment means to me in practice, but also in theory.
Why an essay? Sometimes the written word, not only expresses a thought, but also the process of thinking itself. A process that is unfinished, but through writing about it we hold on to the thought. The written word can be resisted, can be negotiated and corrected without it fading or disappearing.
To begin with, one’s expected to open with a definition. I do not believe in definitions. If we define concepts then we tend to think in solid terms, while concepts are always dynamic and can be differently defined. I do not want to sound postmodernistic, because I’m not, but I rather believe in outlining concepts than in defining them.
Outlining the concepts that we use seems to me to be useful and especially meaningful. Outlining to offer guidance for those who need direction and more insights to open new perspectives.
Commitment is badly needed these days, dear reader. Let me tell you why.
We are going through rough times. Times which are being dominated by an extensive form of capitalism in favor of a small group in our society. The problems are enormous and they will not get resolved as long as the capitalistic system lasts. It is a system that constantly generates crisesses. Crisesses that lead to more inequality, exclusion and poverty. Crisesses inherent to capitalism, as Marx long ago predicted.
Apart from crisesses in the social, economic and political field, we also face a human crisis. One of the foundations of the capitalistic system is individualism. The longer capitalism dominates, the more selfish and individualistic people become. It’s every man for himself.
Another cornerstone of capitalism is that we compete with each other to survive or -so to speak-, get the best out of ourselves. Competition is not only essential for the market, it also takes control of our society. Within the neoliberal capitalistic system, the social processes need to be consistent with how the market functoins. In that way capitalism dominates our lives in all possible areas.
Where has capitalism led us to? All major institutions and organizations, starting from the United Nations to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, admit that the biggest problem at present times is the growing inequality in the world. In Brussels, where I live, inequality is occuring right in front of my very eyes, on daily bases, no need for these institutions to tell me that.
Here, in Brussels, my commitment has grown over the years. In your hometown, where your daily life takes place, where you study, where you work, where your friends live, you just can’t be indifferent to the growing inequality, exclusion and poverty.
When I graduated from university I faced the choice to go for my doctorate or to get socially involved. I did not hesitate long. I chose the second option. I had to do something, give something back to the city where I’ve had such good times as a student.
Commitment means giving a piece of ourselves in what we do. It sounds simple but it is not. It’s simple nor obvious. The obviousness got lost in the dominance of the ‘everyone for his/her own’ discourse. For those who can not give that piece of his or herself in his or her actions, it is difficult to understand why some of us do commit ourselves. Often we even cannot give a exact reason of why we are comitted. Commitment must be experienced and not explained that is why my explanation here, can never match the experience of commitment.
So we can easily say what our commitment serves, but to explain the underlying reasons is far more difficult. No worries for whom this sounds familiar, for it is with time and in experiencing yourself in what you do, that one realizes what those reasons are.
Another aspect of commitment is the context. If we are only occupied with ourselves, it is all about our own context. By committing yourself, you realize that there is a broader context than your own. We realize that there are many things out there, that are worth to be committed for.
It becomes clear when you understand what commitment means ‘Being in contact with the other ‘,’Being busy with someone other than yourself’ During our commitment, we can’t but look beyond ourselves and step into a real relationship with the other. It is not a relationship where you find yourself lost or in which only the other exists. It is a constructive relationship where your commitment is and remains critical.
Commitment begins small and can get bigger. In groups of two, three, four … we come together with other people. These meetings give us the opportunity to look at our own reality from different perspectives. Perspectives that without this commitment would be nonexistent.
Equally important is the fact that through our commitment we obtain a place in the world. Through a commitment with and for others, we find a place for ourselves. A place for yourself in a broader context seems not only sensible, it’s also badly needed in these times of fast living in which alienation has been internalized deep down. We can no longer stand on the sidelines as a spectator at an important part of our lives. Because like it or not, what happens in our environment has an impact on our lives.
To live no longer as spectators but as participants, means commitment is togetherness. You are together with others who also believe in commitment. This deep contact with others and the togetherness, seems like a good exercise in cooperation, solidarity and coexistence with the other.
Through togetherness searching for points of collaboration and connectedness, is essential to make commitment succeed. One should not forget that one is committed to realize something, to change something. And if inequality is the biggest problem in society, which is also ours, than change is essential.
That does not mean I necessarily plead for a result-oriented commitment. Nowadays it seems fashionable that everything we do must be result-oriented.
Commitment is first and foremost a process. A process in which one can engage with other people, in which one can listen and learn from others, and thus widens their horizon. Therefore, one must experience commitment, because only in the experience one can see the value and importance of being commited.
Value and importance benefit not only to the person for whom one is committed, but also for oneselve. Commitment is apart from giving also taking. I believe that each of us gets a lot if one is commited in the place where he lives and for the people whom he lives with. You build a relationship with other people and you get something in common. In addition, it feels good, you feel at home, at ease.
That does not mean that commitment should remain purely local or where you live at the moment. I think it is important that we commit ourselves where our daily life takes place in the districts, villages and cities where we live together. It is there we can do something, because we can change something. However, this does not have to be in conflict with a commitment in a wider area. We should be commited, connected and in solidarity with people around the world who engage themselves for change and improvement.
Bleri Lleshi is political philosopher
Translated from Dutch to English by Ann Blanckaert