This may be a bit different from my usual run of posts. The world abounds with examples of people, families, businesses, and governmental entities making promises and then failing to keep those promises. When this happens the recipients of those promises are up in arms. And, in some cases, rightly so. But a promise is NOT a commitment. There’s a difference, albeit in the view of some, a minor one.
If you look up the words in a dictionary, both are viewed as legally binding, but are they? In real world usage, both are verbal. If they are written, they become something beyond a promise or a commitment. If written, they become contracts and covenants.
A promise, in my opinion, is to make a best effort to accomplish a goal. “I promise to cut the grass tomorrow.” If conditions grant that the task can be done, it will be done. But, if tomorrow brings a constant rain, no one expects me to be mowing my grass in the rain. To make a promise then, is to make a “best effort, barring unforeseen occurrences” to accomplish that which has been promised.
A commitment, however, is different as I was taught by my old boss. If you make a promise and fail to meet it, you’ll likely get another chance to complete that promise although not as original conceived. A commitment means if you don’t deliver as specified, you’re fired!
Consequently, you’ll not be surprised that I make few commitments. I do make promises and do my best, when I do, to meet those promises. But a commitment…ahhh, that’s different.
When I married my wife, I made a commitment to her. My vows were standard, love, cherish, be faithful. I did not make a promise. I made a commitment and I’ve kept that commitment for…uh, lemme see now, 43 years. A commitment means keeping that vow regardless of personal issues, regardless of unforeseen circumstances, regardless of the unexpected, regardless of “acts of God.”
It’s not surprising that people confuse the two. A local example occurred this year with my county government. There is a county road that passes a couple of schools and has heavy traffic. It is narrow and needs to be widened. A promise was made to the local residents to widen the road. Funding for the project came from a number of sources, some from the state, some from a bond issue, and more from the county’s general budget.
Then reality hit. The county government made some bad estimates in revenue. They thought the revenue stream, all from a county sales tax, would grow at a small rate. It didn’t. With the recession/depression, people started conserving. They bought less, only those items that were necessary. The county income failed to meet the amount required to fulfill the promises made by the prior political incumbents.
Promise meet commitment. The road project was a promise…until conditions changed that made meeting the promise untenable. The county has/is/will cut expenses. People have been laid off. Routine maintenance has been slowed. State revenues are also down and money from the state for road projects have been cut as well.
Promise meet commitment. When the choice is paying for lights at the County Jail and Sheriff’s office or using that money to widen a road, which has priority? The county has a commitment to keep the Sheriff’s office running. The road project is a promise. See the difference?
Consider all the examples of these two. Some consider Social Security and Medicare commitments. Others, myself included, consider them promises. Until the 1930s, Social Security did not exist. Until the late 1960s, Medicare did not exist. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1960 there was no Medicare. She had private insurance from two sources. One as a benefit of being an elementary school teacher and the other as being the spouse of a UMWA member. From whom was the promise of healthcare? Certainly it was not from the federal government.
Therefore, what is the commitment of the federal government? There is only one: to uphold and defend the Constitution.
All else are nothing more than promises. As we move towards the future, let’s not be confused with governmental promises and commitments.
They are not the same.