Recently, my students were learning how to revise an essay in my evening ESL reading/writing class. A few sentences in the introduction of the revised final draft that we were studying in the book caught my attention. “A generation ago, it was common for workers to stay at their place of employment for years and years. When it was time for these employees to retire, companies would offer a generous pension package and, sometimes, a token of appreciation, such as a watch, keychain, or other trinket. Oh, how times have changed. Nowadays, people – especially younger workers – jump from job to job like bees fly from flower to flower to pollinate.” (Great Writing: Great Essays 4, Cengage Learning, 2014) We continued reading as the essay went on to explain the reasons people have for quitting their jobs. However, my eyes and mind remained focused on the ideas and images evoked by those descriptive words, ideas about the subject of commitment.
My own father worked at GMC for many years and retired exactly as described above. He had a nice party where they gave him a fine watch and a very nice pension package. He was rewarded for his dependableness and his loyalty and his retirement package helped him to live a comfortable life for many years. In contrast to his traditional life, it seems to me that nowadays people are not content to be in one job. They are always looking for something better, something bigger, something with better pay, more benefits, or more prestige. High profile CEO’s and sports team managers flit from team to team or from corporation to corporation just like the busy bees in the essay that my students read. University presidents stay at one university just long enough to make a name for themselves before they start a search for something better. They appear to be loyal at the time that they are at the university, but they are on a career path for themselves, not for the university.
No one blames any of these career people for jumping ship. The sole exception seems to be when sports figures leave one team for another one that offers them a better package. The fans blame them for leaving the home team and may even boo them when they come back to the hometown for a game against their former team mates. The booing may last for a while, but before long that sports figure is replaced by another favorite in the hearts of the fans. It makes you wonder though. With so many prominent examples of professionals doing “what’s right for themselves,” how can young people understand the importance of loyalty or of a commitment?
Furthermore, the lack of loyalty in a sports figure or a university president or on the job is just a scratch on the surface of modern society. What happens when there is no commitment or loyalty in a friendship or in a marriage? In the United States, many friendships don’t seem to last very long. Even in marriage, the idea of commitment is on the wane. Couples come together for a time, but when difficulties arise, their love diminishes and they lose their interest in maintaining the relationship. Before too long, they find “something better” and move on with their lives.
However, commitment and loyalty are qualities that are desperately needed today. They are not simply old-fashioned qualities for a generation that is quickly disappearing. It occurred to me recently that the importance of commitment cannot be negated. In this life, we all are made up of both emotions and principles. Emotions are as fleeting as the wind. They sweep in like a summer breeze and inspire us with all kinds of wonderful feelings and ideas. We think that these intense feelings will last forever, not realizing that life’s situations will change just as assuredly as the weather and as our situations change, so also do the feelings that accompany them. For one minute we are on cloud nine and the next we can hardly remember what it felt like to float so high in the stratosphere. Emotions inspire us, give us courage and make us take giant leaps of faith, but they can never hold us. In a relationship, when we no longer feel the intensity of our first feelings, the emotional “high” of falling in love, will we “fall out of love” with the person we are with? Will we forget what we ever even liked about the person?
That is why we need commitment. We make commitments based on those lofty feelings. We jump into relationships or marriage because we know what it is to feel on top of the world. We enter into something that we say is for the long haul, but do we have what it takes to hang on to it? A true commitment is the faith to hold us through. It is the anchor that we hold on to when the current gets too swift and knocks us off of our feet. Life is such that difficulties will inevitably come. Everyone is subject to difficulties. If someone has no difficulties, they must not truly be alive. Some of the troubles that pop up in our lives seem but a moment, but others linger and pester us for years and years. What does a person hang onto that has no faith? More and more, we see people around us that are drowning. They flounder and flail their arms and cry out for help. Some get angry and act out on their anger in horrible ways that become the next day’s headlines. They have no anchor. They would like to make a commitment, but they have no faith. There is nothing there for them to hang onto when trials come along. In their relationships, they don’t even see the point of hanging on.
Commitment, on the other hand, hangs on in troubled times. Commitment knows that troubles cannot last forever. Faith holds on when everything around it is just a blur, at times not even remembering why it is holding on. It just knows that it must hang on. Everything we know and hold dear can crumble, but faith stands strong. One day, when the situation finally changes and the summer breeze returns and the tender feelings fill our hearts again, then that faith finally receives its reward. The emotions that once were strong are stronger still. The person him/herself could not have ever imagined that the original loving emotion could somehow one day be doubled in sweetness, but now finds that it is so.