Why Can't We Commit?
Have we become a nation of option addicts, slaves to the choices we crave?
BY: Sarah Diffenderfer Satterwhite
Do you know someone who has to be in control of the remote? No matter what's on TV, that person is always looking for something better. Commercials don't exist for advertising purposes but only to allow exploration of all the other viewing options.
Exploring options is part of our nature. But today, the remote control is a metaphor for commitment in America. We want to control our choices but from a distance, without having to get involved.
"Commitment is becoming something that people now give project by project, not for a lifetime," says Becky Bridges, a communications and marketing specialist in Dallas. "You will find a lot of commitment to a task. Many will commit to an event. But there is an ending to these types of relationships."
Short-term commitments require less. They also offer less. And when people get accustomed to short-term commitments, long-term commitments may seem less necessary. Why should we choose the long-term when the short-term offers more ease and control?
Barna Research Group says the trend toward shorter commitments has spilled into the arena of church attendance. Each year, one out of seven adults changes his or her church membership. Another one out of six regularly attends a carefully chosen handful of churches on a rotating basis rather than sticking with the same church week after week.
What fuels our commitment aversion? Uncertainty.
Virtually all of life is up for grabs. No job is secure. Half of all marriages aren't forever. Consumerism has made us option addicts. And when change is the only cultural constant, long-term commitments begin to look foolish.
Our culture of divorce, particularly, has shaped the worldview and expectations of young adults. A legacy of pain and uncertainty has made marriage a risky and sober lifestyle choice, and as a result many young adults have postponed marriage.
When downsizing and mergers erase any expectation of employer loyalty, and dot-coms portend not only quick riches but also sudden failure, people come to accept job volatility.
But all this talk about commitment aversion can be misleading, says Cassidy Dale, 29, a research consultant and futurist in Washington, D.C. What often looks like a lack of commitment may actually be a shifting of commitments. People still commit, but to different things, says Dale. Perhaps what we need are new ways to measure loyalty.
"People are basically commitment-oriented, and people choose commitments based on their priorities," says Dale. The Builder generation--those born before 1946--tend to commit to concrete things, like churches and other institutions. The Boomers--born 1946 to 1964--don't feel that allegiance to concrete institutions, so the Builders see them as noncommittal. On the contrary, the Boomers feel a strong commitment to causes, such as Habitat for Humanity and Promise Keepers.