Thursday, January 14, 2010

Commitment & Responsibility

by Ashley Lister

Commitment. Commitment. [Ashley chews thoughtfully on the end of his pen]. Commitment. I have to be honest and admit that this week’s topic has not been an easy one for me to write about because I don’t like the word commitment. I don’t use the word commitment very often, mainly because I can never remember how many letter ‘m’s or letter ‘t’s it contains. If I have to express a thought or opinion about such an abstract concept, I prefer to use the word responsibility. A commitment and a responsibility are vaguely synonymous: always bearing in mind that no two words are truly synonymous because of etymology, connotation and denotation. But, if I had a choice between the two, I would always choose responsibility over commitment.

Responsibility has several advantages over the word commitment.

Primarily, responsibility is easier to spell. There are no stupid double letters hiding in responsibility and every letter sounds exactly like it reads on the page. Re-spon-sib-il-it-y. For this reason alone, responsibility is a superior word to commitment.

Secondly, a responsibility is something I can possess, rather than something I have to construct. If you consider the language involved, I have a responsibility, or I can accept a responsibility, but I have to make a commitment. Being a lazy bastard, this state of affairs works perfectly for me. I prefer things I can have to things I have to make. Why would I waste my time making something when I can take something that already exists?

I lost my mobile phone recently. I went out to the shop and bought a new one. I now have a new mobile phone. Imagine how difficult my life would have become if I had to make a mobile phone! I’d still be fiddling with the silly little wires and trying to work out how to make a keypad.

So, like many people, I prefer things I can possess to things I have to construct. As the above illustrates, this applies to everything from abstract concepts (religions, philosophical outlooks, political tendencies etc) through to material possessions (mobile phones, pizzas, cars etc). No one ever makes a responsibility. Responsibilities are prefabricated and come to us already manufactured. We might take on another responsibility; we might be given some extra responsibilities: but no one ever makes a responsibility.

Third: commitment has connotations of religious overtones, and I regularly get down on my knees and pray that my writing never contains religious overtones. Commitments are (most often) made in church. They invariably appear alongside scary nouns such as pledge, promise and vow, another series of words that need to come with self-assembly instructions because you have to make every one of them. Also, particularly when the religious connotations are involved, there are rumours of hellfire, brimstone and all kinds of terribleness for those who break a commitment.

Responsibilities don’t come with such drawbacks. If you can’t make a responsibility, you sure as hell can’t break one. Admittedly, responsibilities can be overlooked, shirked or forgotten, but no one has ever been threatened with hellfire and brimstone for shirking, forgetting or overlooking.

So, this week, instead of writing about commitment, I’m writing about responsibility.

Responsibility. Responsibility. [Ashley chews thoughtfully on the end of his pen]. Responsibility. I have to be honest and admit that this week’s topic has not been an easy one for me to write about…

13 comments:

  1. I love this: "I regularly get down on my knees and pray that my writing never contains religious overtones." I try to avoid religion in my writing too, unless it's to point and snicker...

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  2. Oh, this may be my favorite essay of yours yet!

    As I've often done in the past, I will commit to forwarding the link to my wife for her enjoyment—because I consider it my responsibility to pass along such high-quality entertainment.

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  3. Okay, haven't even finished the first paragraph and had to comment already. I laughed out loud with the "how many m's and t's". I went back about 10 times in my post to fix various misspellings before I got them all. It's like my fingers just don't want to get it right. And me a proofer, sheesh.

    Back to your post...

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  4. Haven,

    There are so many fundamentalists out there I'm genuinely scared to point and snicker. You're a braver man than I am.

    Best,

    Ash

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  5. Jeremy,

    I hope your good lady enjoys the post and I'd sincerely like to think that it rocks her socks off.

    Talking of which, for anyone reading this comment who isn't Jeremy (or Jeremy's good lady) Rock My Socks Off is the latest title from the highly revered Mr Jeremy Edwards.

    If you haven't already ordered a copy, go to Amazon and place your order right now!

    Best,

    Ash

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  6. Devon,

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who has trouble with such spellings. It gets embarrassing in the classroom when I'm writing on a chalkboard. Those things are notorious for not having spellcheckers :-)

    Best,

    Ash

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  7. Wow, thank you so much for all that, Ash! I'm so touched that I've dropped my m's and t's all over the floor. I may never be able to spell "commitment" again—but it's worth it!

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  8. Hi Ashley!

    I actually have been threatened with hellfire and brimstone on the subject of commitment, but then I've lived a very weird life prior to this.

    Also I like commitment in as much as it has a nice iambic meter com - MIT - ment. You can do things with that.

    Otherwise, yeah, I agree. Commitment is no fun. Sometimes responsibility isn't either but what can we do.

    Fun post!

    Garce

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  9. "We might take on another responsibility; we might be given some extra responsibilities: but no one ever makes a responsibility."

    I beg to differ on this point. If you have fathered a child, you have helped **make** a responsibility ;) Hopefully you had fun doing it though!

    Very delightful post, Ash.

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  10. Hi, Ash,

    Obviously, in contrast to what Garce has claimed, commitment CAN be fun. One only has to read your post to understand this!

    On a more serious note (somebody on this blog has to be serious!), I actually don't agree that "commitment" and "responsibility" are synonyms. Because someone can give you responsibility--but you don't necessarily have to accept it. Commitment involves a choice--free will--while responsibility may not.

    In any case, your post entertained us all, therefore you have fulfilled your responsibility to Grip readers!

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  11. Garce,

    I'd overlooked the fact that commitment was iambic. I suppose, at a stretch, responsibility could be iambic (res-PON-si-BIL-it-Y) although I can't see it sitting well in any sonnet I'm currently considering.

    Best,

    Ash

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  12. Helen,

    A good technical point. I have helped *make* that one responsibility. If only all responsibilities were so much fun to make :-)

    Best,

    Ash

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  13. Lisabet,

    I think your definitions of responsibility and commitment are spot on. As I said in the post, no two words are wholly synonymous and this is probably one of the key differences between commitment and responsibility.

    Best,

    Ash

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