Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Minor Musing on Commitments

I've been meaning to get to this Will Wilkenson post for a long time.  Wilkenson enunciates the ambivalence I feel about social demands that I place on others and that others place on me.
To be a social animals means that without the cooperation of others, we’re doomed. Cooperation at home, at work, at church, in the neighborhood, is best elicited by signals of unflagging commitment, and this can involve elaborate rituals displaying our willingness to do our share, to take a hit for the team, to fold the welfare of others into our own conception of our good. There is deep satisfaction to be had in the thick commitments that makes traditional small-scale social cooperation possible and productive. But there is also suffocation, self-effacement, and hierarchies of status and dominance that beget humiliation, resentment, and webs of toxic rivalry. We are built by evolution to inhabit this sort of social world, but that doesn’t mean we love it.
Wilkenson then goes on to clearly explain what every high school student wants to say but can't.
When offered the chance to get out, to choose our own communities, to choose our own friends, to relate to our families on our own terms, to get out from under inherited obligations of status and obedience, many of us choose to get out. But this is not to eschew commitment. This is not to give up on happiness. Few of us can live happily wholly unencumbered by commitment. To know freedom from the life of the tribe is to demand more from our lovers and our friends because we have chosen them; they are really ours. The flip-side is that we owe more, too. 
I'm not sure how to react to this next statement.  I haven't really kept in touch with either college or high school friends.  My relationships are either with current colleagues or immediate family.
It’s true that commitments of choice are more tenuous than commitments of fate. College friends are more fickle than childhood friends who are more fickle than blood, and there is some anxiety in this for those of us who depend more on what we have chosen than on what we have been given. Some of us are very lucky and would freely affirm, again and again, the bonds we fell into as children, or at birth. 
Finally, as someone who embraces the idea of being permanently "displaced," this statement resonates:
But some of us, the weirdos especially, are less lucky and fall mostly into loneliness when young. Some of us first meet our best friends as disembodied text on a glowing plane. But we can and do come to cherish these ghosts more than our own flesh and blood through the magic of mutual comprehension and love of the things that make us most fully separate, the things that make us feel most alien and alone.

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