Sunday, July 25, 1999
Scene 1: Picture-perfect setting for the typical Indian wedding where the boy and girl appear made-for-each-other. Just as the pundit is gearing for the ceremony the groom lifts his dhoti, leaps into the air and dashes towards the exit, muttering incoherently, "I cant to it".
Scene 2 : Girl and boy have known and loved each other for nine years. They have been formally engaged for four years. Every time he talks of fixing a marriage date she develops cold feet, pleading for more time. Her parents are divorced, brother unhappily married and best friend involved in an extra-marital relationship.
Scene 3 : X is 34 years old. He has studied in boarding schools and worked overseas. Now he has come to India and landed a job in another city. He has an unmarried sister and old parents. He knows the moment he settles down he has to get them to live with him. He keeps coming up with excuses, delaying their arrival. He is in no hurry to get either his sister or himself married, nor in making any changes in his so-strings-attached lifestyle.
IN the above examples the main protagonists are helpless. They are controlled by a power which is incomprehensible even to them. All three love the people in their lives,be it the betrothed, fiance, parents or sister, but somehow when it comes to the crux, they find themselves floundering, uneasy and terrified. They are comfortable going half the way. A long-term commitment which is likely to make demands on their time or impinge on their lifestyle pattern is unacceptable to them. They are afraid of taking, of introspection and confrontation. They want things to continue the way they are.
M.Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled talks of the risk of commitment. He points out that problems of commitment are an inherent part of most psychiatric problems. Also, issues of commitment are crucial in the course of psychotherapy. Character-disordered invividuals tend to form only shallow commitments and when their disorders are severe, they seem to lack totally the capacity to form commitments at all. More than the fear of commitment, they simply do not understand what commitment is all about and how crucial it is to make any relationship truly loving, long-lasting and meaningful. Their thinking is warped and there are many layers to their personas. They prefer leaving things unsaid and obscure. If they have to go for a party, they will not tell the host, "I will/wont be there". Instead they say, "Ill see if I can make it", "Dont count on me, if I turn up fine, otherwise you go ahead and have a nice time." This ambivalence extends to other more serious issues as well.
There could be a number of reasons which withhold them from making serious commitments. Childhood scars, especially when parents have behaved in a violent or irresponsible manner (alcoholism, abuse, workaholism, divorce/separation), can mar the childs ability to take on responsibility and honour commitments. Losing some one they loved dearly (death, abandonment, rejection) could scare them from forming similar attachments. They build walls around themselves and dont allow others to get too close and intimate. By maintaining a stoic distance they feel their defence mechanism is stronger, no one can cause them hurt, pain and anguish. Having been deceived and let down by those they trusted implicitly has made them lose trust and faith in people in general. This makes them wary of forging serious commitments. What they need is reassurance and understanding. They must not be pushed into making commitments till they are ready to shoulder and accept them. The other person has to be able to repose that confidence though the risk of their being on the periphery will always remain. If the person has a chronic disability to commit or is an escapist, he may even need counseling.
Today one finds people who are obsessively self-centred. Individualistic and self sufficient, they are very clear of not wanting to be tied down. They abhor the idea of another person controlling their life and dictating terms. Commitment to them amplies slavery, compromising and diminishing ones sense of self. They wish to make no changes in their lives and would want people who are close to them to take it or leave it at that. Anything, which is foreover, gives them the jitters. They should stop confusing commitment with confinement.
Commitment is not just giving ones word. It is an amalgamation of 11 qualities: dependability, reliability, consistency, caring, empathy, a sense of duty, sincerity, character, integrity and loyalty. It is giving the other person the reassurance and confidence that you are always there for him. Although deep commitment in no way guarantees the success and permanence of happy tidings in a relationship, it is the foundation on which the alliance stands. Anyone who is concerned about the spiritual growth of another knows, consciously or instinctively, that he or she can significantly foster that growth only through a relationship of constancy. To quote Peck: "Children cannot grow to psychological maturity in an atmosphere of unpredictability, haunted by the spectre of abandonment. Couples cannot resolve in any healthy way the universal issues of marraige - dependency and independency, dominance and submission, freedom and fidelity, for example - without the security of knowing that the act of struggling over these issues will not itself destroy the relationship."
There could be times when one is faced with conflicting commitments. Exams are round the corner and mother has met with an accident. Commitment towards studies and girl friend get diluted and even sidelined, as caring for mother becomes top priority. Similarly a husband whose wife is in labour, expecting their first child, may have to abandon her and rush for an overseas emergency assignment. Here, it is important forboth to behave in a mature fashion. One persons genuine helplessness in the face of conflict/dilemma must be laid at rest by the others comforting reassurance, which seems to say, its alright, I know you want to be with me, but you have to leave. I understand and shall not hold it against you." This kind of compassionate understanding can come only when two individuals have committed themselves to each other in toto, when they have full confidence in their relationship and in themselves. Rather than childishly accuse the other person of indifference and insensitivity, acknowledge his correct sense of priority, duty and responsibility which will evenually extend to you too.
Finally making a
commitment in the modern context is telling the person
that "I am there for you whenever you need me",
"I will not let you down even when the chips are
against you and the world has rejected you." But
this doesnt imply that he will drop everything and
sit by your side eager to pick you up every time you
stumble. He may not even realise you need his help till
you actually spell it out for him. So its important
not to have unrealistic expectaions. On the other hand
and making a commitment does not give one the right to
lord over the other party. It is not akin to ownership.
For instance, committing to take care of old parents
doesnt give one the right to buy their time,
dictate terms to them on how they should live, whom they
should meet and what they should spend their money on. By
offering 100 per cent commitment one is not enslaving,and
binding the other person so that he/she can fit into the
mould created by us.
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