Friday, August 24, 2012

The Long Arc of Commitment

by Miki Kashtan

One of the challenges that many people must transcend along the way of integrating the radical freedom that living from within our needs spells is the temptation to ignore commitments we made at a certain point because of a more pressing and live need that arises in the moment. At a recent workshop, the difficult task of balancing spontaneity and intention came up. In the conversation that ensued we used a metaphor that helped us understand more fully both the challenge and what we can do about it.

Whenever we make a decision to do something to attend to a need or some needs, the metaphor goes, we are drawing an arc between the moment we are in and the completion of what the decision is about, ideally the fulfillment of those needs. If I decide to go to the market to get vegetables for dinner that arc is much shorter, and therefore closer to the ground, than the arc that would signify a decision to go to graduate school and get a Ph.D. in sociology. At any moment in time, any number of arcs are active at various places on the trajectory. I, the person who always decides what I do next, choose among the many of them which I will give my attention to. On the way to the market I encounter a friend I haven’t seen in years, and am faced with the choice of delaying the vegetables and the dinner they promise. While in graduate school I find myself impatient with the book I am reading for a seminar and I want to take a ride to the beach. Having decided that I want to dedicate my resources to supporting people working to transform the world, I am faced with an invitation to work with a corporation, at a time I am financially strapped.

What is it that helps me stay the course with the initial, longer arc, when the immediate needs keep arising? Is this even what I would want to do, in all circumstances? How do I discern fruitfully? “I am not a slave to my own decisions,” a friend said one day when he lit up a cigarette within days after deciding to quit. What does freedom really look like in those moments when an earlier decision that may no longer feel alive, relevant, or real, encounters an immediate call to our attention, another need that is born from within the flow and reality of the moment? It “feels”, often, freer to ignore the past decisions and only respond to what’s in the moment, one of the challenges that anyone who seriously applies themselves to the study of Nonviolent Communication learns sooner or later. Is that the real freedom, or is there another kind of freedom in being able to stay true to an earlier decision, to follow the arc of life inherent in the moment in which the commitment was made?