I recently organised a social get together. I got people to confirm their attendance and then, last minute, fifty percent of them sent a sms, email, bbm that they will unfortunately not be able to make it. I was not very surprised. I took note of all the messages and yet enjoyed the time with the rest of the people that attended.
The next morning, I woke up thinking about the nice evening and wondering how it would have been if the others had pitched. Was I disappointed? Yes, but not too much as these last minute cancellation messages have become business as usual for any social event or gathering where only loose commitments are required. I know this, because I have done it myself: confirm or confirm with a maybe, but then sent the famous message ‘sorry, won’t be able to make it’.
Thinking about commitments and social events I think one could put people in four categories:
Over-committers: are the ones that jump on any band wagon and are always full of excitement. When you tell them about any of your ideas and plans, they will find it fantastic and sign up for it even before you have finished the sentence. Unfortunately, those types are the ones that end up cancelling many of their prior ‘commitments’. There are only 24hrs in the day.
Never-committers: They are the other extreme. They always listen carefully when social events are discussed. They will also respond to emails to say ‘I will let you know’. They are the ones that enjoy surprising people when they show up spontaneously. They always keep their options open. They are the type that constantly checks their phones and never stay longer than an hour at any event.
Keep it to the last minute committers: This type of committer confirms up till an hour before the event that he/she is coming. They normally also the ones asking the most detailed questions about what to bring, how to get there, what clothes to wear, what not to do and who else will come? If you ask the person after answering all these question – ‘so will you come’ the person will strongly confirm. You can be rest assured shortly before the event or when the event has just started you will get a message. ‘Sorry can’t make it...’ and a dramatic story will follow.
Keep it as it is committers: This type is a dying out species. When they say ‘yes’ they mean it and they come. When they say ‘no’ they won’t come and when they say ‘maybe’ they ‘maybe’ come.
So what makes it difficult to keep commitments? Are we all suffering from ‘commiti-litis’? Is it a sign of the modern times governed by e-technology, cellphones and the internet? Or is the term commitment outdated and overrated?
I looked up the definition of commitment. Number one was ‘an obligation, promise, etc. that restricts one's freedom of action’. This definition certainly sounds like the license to get out of any type of ‘commitment’ if commitment really means it restricts one’s freedom of action. Number two read ‘the official consignment of a person to a mental hospital or prison’. This definition is another good reason to not commit – you are crazy if you do so. ;-)
The following ones are those ones that refer to the type of commitment I am talking about – the simple act of saying ‘yes’ to an invitation or event and to stick to it.
‘The act of binding yourself (intellectually or emotionally) to a course of action.’ ‘The trait of sincere and steadfast fixity of purpose’
These last ones sound pretty cooI and I actually do not think commitments are outdated. I think most of us are longing for this ‘sincere’ and ‘steadfast’ promise even for the little things such as a friend really pitching for the birthday party; the kept commitment to really call/email/sms when promised, the commitment to make time to talk....
It is interesting that we are the generation with more leisure time in comparison to hours at work than any generation before us, but we seem to have the most difficulties to manage our free time. We are constantly stressed and do not know how to manage our social calendars, hence the lack of know-how to make or keep commitments. The fact that the number of people we meet during our lifetimes has increased exponentially in comparison to previous generations is another factor contributing to ‘commiti-litis’. The internet and social media surely adds to the fact that our connections are not only far more but also geographically spread.
It seems we have just too many choices and too many connections to take care off. The constant decision making processes are slowly but surely erasing our ability to ‘just commit’ and stick to it. This statement is not a judgement but a worrying fact. I am sure all of us have done it – say 'yes' and then send the famous cancellation sms. I also know that there are many people who really want to make it to all the things they commit to. It becomes a time management issue and an issue of knowing one’s own limitations and abilities. Instant gratification also plays a role. If I have committed to meet with person A but the same morning person B calls and has this fantastic idea to do something, many people then tend to go with how they feel like – cancel with person A and go with person B.
So what are possible remedies to ‘commiti-litis’?
Maybe we all should try to not rely too much on our cell phones but on our human connection and think about how a lack of commitment makes one feel. Maybe it is not so much the word ‘commitment’ but the opposite of it that will assist us in fighting this spreading disease.
It might help us as a warning signal the next time before saying so loosely ‘yes’ or before sending the cancellation message. The opposite of commitment is ‘indifference’. So if someone commits and then sends the sms to cancel it shows a tiny bit of indifference towards the other person.
What other remedies would you suggest? Maybe you can tell me...?