The Commitment Conversation

This conversation is about making promises to peers about your contribution to the success of a community initiative. It asks: What promise am I willing to make? And, what is the price I am willing to pay for the success of the whole effort?

It is one thing to set a goal or objective, but something more personal to use the language of promises. The declaration of a promise is the form that commitment takes and is the action that initiates change.

We need the commitment of much fewer people than we thought to create the future we can imagine. The commitments that count the most are ones made to peers, other citizens — not ones made to or by leaders. When citizens share these promises, we can together determine whether they will be enough to bring an alternative future into existence.

These promises are made for the sake of a larger purpose, with no expectation of personal return. It is the willingness to make a promise independent of either approval or reciprocity from other people.

This level of commitment is distinguished from a barter agreement, which is an exchange that is contingent on the actions of another. “I will do this if you will do that”. This means that we hold an out for ourselves dependent on whether other people fulfil their part of the bargain. This reciprocity works well as an element of commerce ... but it falls short of the level of commitment that is capable of creating a new future for our communities.

The enemy of commitment is lip service, not opposition. Lip service sabotages commitment. It offers an empty step forward. It is an agreement made standing next to the exit door. Whenever someone says they will try hard, agree to think about it, or do the best they can ... then it is smart to consider that a no. It may not be a final refusal, but at that moment there is no commitment.

Promises are the means by which we choose accountability. And we become accountable the moment we make our promises public.

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Some questions for the commitment conversation:

What promises am I willing to make?

What measures have meaning to me?

What price am I willing to pay? 

What is the cost to others for me to keep my commitments, or fail in my commitments?

What’s the promise I’m willing to make that constitutes a risk or major shift for me?

What is the promise I am postponing?

What is the promise or commitment I am unwilling to make?

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(edited and adapted from) Peter Block “Community – The Structure of Belonging” 2008 and Peter Block “Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community” 2007



Peter Block “Community – The Structure of Belonging”
now in a second edition, revised and updated
Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 2nd ed. edition (July 17, 2018)

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