Commitment statements are living documents: a way to clarify deep dedications and priorities and to make them actionable both in everyday life and for the long haul.
For several years now, I’ve been working with commitment statements as a way to better understand my own commitments and where I’m out of alignment with them—and, importantly, to realign and strive toward justice. This work has grown out of my collaborative research on “Making Commitments to Racial Justice Actionable.” And it’s been shaped by so many writer-teachers, especially BIPOC feminist and womanist educators and activists, including Gloria Anzaldúa, adrienne maree brown, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, bell hooks, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Audre Lorde, Mia Mingus, Elaine Richardson, Loretta Ross, Jacqueline Jones Royster, Layla F. Saad, and the Combahee River Collective. It’s also been shaped in relationship with and deep gratitude to Rasha Diab, Sarah Gettel, and Mel Meder.
This work has come together in the past few months through the workshops “Writing and Living out Commitment Statements” and small-group coaching this week (“Part II” to the workshops) as well as one-with-one coaching, emails, and conversations. I’m deeply grateful to the many people who are gifting me questions and insights into what we know and don’t know about commitments.
In this blog post, as a step in this ongoing work with commitments, I want to share 10 questions that have been gifted to me, showing the sort of questions we have about commitment statements.
I’ll also frame why commitments matter and provide two initial answers in this post. I hope to share additional answers in future blog posts, Patreon Q&A newsletters, and commitment statement workshops and small-group coaching. If you’re interested in these future offerings (collaborative learning experiences), reach out for more information.
Why Commitment Statements?
Before sharing the 10 questions, I want to ground the conversation in the why—why I so value commitment statements.
Ideally, all our actions are guided by commitments. By deep dedications, priorities, and values that direct our lives. By what matters to us most and what gives us a sense of purpose. By what is in line with our integrity and sense of showing up and coming through for ourselves and others. By what roots and grounds us. By what separates the hell no from the strong yes.
Too often, however, we’re on autopilot. Or we’re conditioned into and repeating ways of being, doing, thinking, feeling, relating, and living that undercut professed beliefs. Or we’re stuck in a mode of critique, pushing against what we don’t want, but not clear about what we’re for.
The acts of writing, revising, and revisiting commitment statements, therefore, support living with greater intentionality. Here are some of the reasons to write commitment statements:
- To know the anchors or root systems (deep dedications) that drive decision-making
- To reflect on what we want to change about our lives—and why
- To disrupt easy-come, easy-go ways of doing “allyship”
- To notice when and where we’re showing up and not showing up
- To change ways of being, doing, and relating that aren’t aligned with our values
- To know (really, really, know) what’s motivating us, including what we often hide from ourselves
- To adopt an attitude of striving or “try-try again”—recognizing when we fail to act on commitments and not getting stuck there, but realigning and recommitting
The fact that we typically are conditioned not to know or live out commitments is part of what it means to live within systemic oppression and complicity with injustice. Together, anti-Blackness, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, settler colonialism, interlocking oppressions, and attachment to the mythical norm obscure and block both the language of commitments and courageous action motivated by commitments.
Add to this how whiteness—the ideology, cultural practices, and normalization of these practices—promotes lack of accountability and lack of commitment. And heteropatriarchy and capitalism—again, the ideology, cultural practices, and normalization of these practices—disrupt a grounded sense of self. Instead, these structures feed practices of puffing up and shrinking, feelings of not-enough and too-much, and related hoarding and power abuse.
Within systemic oppression, we have an ongoing need to unlearn this conditioning against commitments. There is a need to ask again and again: What are my commitments? And why those commitments? Is this who I really want to be? What truths do I live by? What truths do I long to be known? How am I showing up for myself? For others? For which others? To whom am I accountable? How am I practicing—and not practicing—accountability? What am I for? And for all of these questions: WHY?
Commitments are a key to striving toward justice—social justice, racial justice, environmental justice. To interrupt oppression, the work begins with commitments, including the commitments to rehumanize ourselves, to seek accountability that supports committed living, and to love ourselves and each other so deeply that we act on longings for justice.
Within this context, is it any wonder that there are so many questions and confusions about commitments and commitment statements? Here are 10 places to begin.
10 Questions about Commitment Statements
- What is the difference between values and commitments?
- I don’t hear people talk about commitments as often as values, intentions, and goals. Why do you use the language of commitments?
- How do I move beyond the initial overwhelm from considering all these heavy questions? // How can I get started on own statement when feeling unsure?
- I really enjoyed reading The Combahee River Collective Statement. How is a collective statement different from a personal statement? The process, the focus, the possible “formulas”?
- For those who work at mission-driven institutions (universities, nonprofits, tech companies, etc.), it can be difficult to separate one’s own commitments from institutional missions. Any advice on how to disentangle these?
- Why write out commitments? Why not just say them to myself?
- Do commitments change over time?
- How can I best think about my commitments to myself in relation to my commitments to others? // I’ve been thinking about how I need to incorporate the commitments that I have to myself (to wellness, to self-trust, to following my own instincts, etc.). How can I go about including myself in my life commitments?
- One of the things that I appreciated about your workshop was the discussion of actions: that actions can highlight our values and that analyzing our actions might even illuminate where our values are out of synch with our daily lives. I’d be curious if you have anything more to say about why observing our actions can be a useful practice in creating commitment statements, or if you have any suggestions about how to observe them. For example, some actions, like “being a good listener / valuing listening” might be more difficult to “see” than other types of actions. So, I’m wondering if you have any tips for seeing those types of actions that might be more difficult.
- Where can I read or learn more about commitments?
Two Answers (for Now)
Though there is a LOT to dig into in these questions, let me share two answers for now. The first is why writing itself supports living out commitments, and the second is why commitments need to include commitments to ourselves.
1. Yes, Writing Supports Knowing and Living out Commitments.
Scholarship in writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies provides many answers to why writing matters. Writing supports us as humans in seeking to know ourselves, clarifying what we do and don’t value, setting intentions, communicating with others, and much more. When we write, we often not only witness internalized thoughts and feelings come alive on the page, but we also shape and revise this internalized dialogue. Many times, we have to write to make meaning. Writing itself helps us learn, including about ourselves and our commitments.
Additionally, writing helps us slow down and become more intentional about our ways of being, doing, thinking, feeling, relating, and living in the world. Contemplative writing is important for many reasons, including as a means to observe our emotions, change thought patterns, interrupt negative self-talk, evoke self-reflection, inspire creativity, and engage in problem-posing and problem-solving.
In addition to these many processual reasons for writing commitment statements (these and others!), there are also many ways the product—the statement itself—can be used for accountability. Ideally, commitments statements aren’t texts that we write and set aside, but drafts that we return to often and use to track our actions.
Returning to and revising these statements can provide the means to check in regularly: How am I living out my commitments? Am I really acting on what I say I value? Am I impeccable with my word, acting in ways aligned with what I’ve articulated? Does my life reflect these commitments? Are my commitments changing over time? What are these commitments calling me into and toward?
Without writing commitments in some form, then it’s easy for commitments to be ephemeral—essentially lacking commitment. Writing is a concrete step toward making commitments that last, that carry beyond a single moment, that call us into action.
2. Yes, Commitments Include Commitments to Self.
Since I understand commitments as our deepest dedications in life, I believe they absolutely encompass dedications to ourselves. Many times, we can betray our commitments when we aren’t honest about what we most care about and why. This includes when we proclaim commitments that are externally-oriented and not driven by intrinsic desires. The truer we are about our longings and willingness to translate values into commitments, the more we can avoid conflicts between showing up for ourselves and for others (where we can end up doing a lot of harm).
So, for the personal examples shared here—wellness, self-trust, and following instincts—I would ask questions to think about what underlies these desires. My starting place is often in question-asking, problem-posting, and inner-seeking. Notice if any of these resonate with you as places to reflect on commitments and what matters to you most:
- What does wellness mean to you? Personal wellness? Collective wellness?
- And what’s the opposite of wellness? What happens if wellness isn’t a priority?
- How do self-trust and instincts help us make everyday decisions and live out commitments? What happens to commitments without self-trust and following instincts?
- What interrupts self-trust? What blocks us from following instincts?
- If we open to our instincts, where are they directing us? What are they asking us to notice, to be, to do, and to not do?
- If we stayed with any one of these (wellness, self-trust, or following instincts) as a key commitment, what else would need to shift or change or fall away or be reimagined?
- If wellness is a priority, then _______?
- If self-trust is a priority, then _______?
- If following instincts is a priority, then _____?
I’m betting you can already imagine other questions that spin off from these. My hope is that these point in a direction to get additional clarity about where, when, how, with whom, and why we put energy and attention. Interestingly, the examples shared here (wellness, self-trust, and following instincts) feel connected to a reason I so value commitment statements: to get to know what’s implicitly and explicitly driving actions and to make changes from there. The more we know our commitments, the more we can check in regularly: Are my instincts telling me that I’m out of alignment with my commitments? Or are they alerting me to commitments not articulated or even hidden from myself?
Related to these questions, I think about how emotions, like intuition, can signal to us what we care about most deeply and what commitments we need to act on: What enrages me such that rage itself is a catalyst? What do I love so deeply that love itself is a motivator?
Again, these questions ask us to know ourselves and what we’re for. This reflective work inherently involves breaking open narratives we tell about ourselves, each other, our communities, our values, our hopes, and our actions.
I hope this brainstorming supports staying with the questions. When new questions emerge, stay there. And I hope we can connect around these questions in future workshops, coaching, and connection.
For related reading, check out “Writing a Commitment Statement” and “Breaking Commitments and Recommitting Through Mindful Reflection” as well as my current commitment statement.