Let’s Talk Semantics 1: Goals vs. Commitments

January 8, 2011 § 11 Comments

Considering that one of the things I love to teach my students is the power of words in general, I have decided to begin a series of posts. From time to time, as the mood hits, I’ll add to this series: Let’s Talk Semantics. In this series, we’ll play with words and their individual power, as well as the meaning behind them.

Let’s begin, shall we?

Let’s Talk Semantics!

Yesterday morning, I met with my friend V over coffee to discuss some dissertation writing plans. We agreed that if we wrote two pages a day, five days a week, and turned in 10 pages every Friday to each other, by the end of April, we’d have every chapter in a full draft form. Considering we’ve been in academia for over a decade, and that we’ve studied English literature/composition for the majority of that decade, we can compose 2 pages a day with little trouble at all. We feel confident we’ll be able to meet these self-imposed deadlines and that we’ll hold each other fully accountable.

And that’s what brings me to today’s topic.

While V and I were writing down our deadlines in our calendars, I glanced over to V’s calendar and saw that she had chosen a very specific word. Rather than choosing to write “Writing Goal: 2 pages a day,” she wrote “Writing Commitment: 2 pages a day.” In that moment, it suddenly struck me that there is a clear difference between goals and commitments. Here’s what I mean:

Goals: something often vague, abstract, and in some distant future. We might say something like “my goal is to lose 100 pounds,” but we haven’t necessarily mapped out exactly how we intend to achieve that goal. So, fine, we map out our plan to achieve it. But does that plan automatically suggest that the goal will be met? I’m inclined to believe, no.

Commitments: something concrete, specific, and immediate. When we make commitments, we are holding ourselves responsible and accountable for meeting those commitments. If we fail in our commitments, we are often held responsible and accountable for them by others as well. For instance, if we commit to raising a puppy, we commit to feeding it, taking it potty all the times it rings a bell needs to go out, walking with it to keep it exercised, socializing it with other dogs, and playing with it to keep it people-friendly. If we fail in these commitments, we reap the consequences of that failure. We might have a poorly-adjusted dog, or (even worse) our dog might be taken from us.

Commitments are more serious goals. Goals say nothing about our level of interest in completion. Making a commitment says to all who are aware of it: “I mean to see this through to the very end. I will not give up.” Goals say: “I really hope/wish I could achieve this.”

So what? Anyone can hope and wish and dream. But commit?

To commit takes some real gumption.

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§ 11 Responses to Let’s Talk Semantics 1: Goals vs. Commitments

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