‘Commitment’ and the epidemic of jargon

“As a premium supplier in healthcare products, our commitment to the highest standards of safety is unparalleled.” [Yeah, right.]

“We are committed to providing you with world-class service…” [Prove it.]

“I am committed to losing two kilos by Easter” [But you probably won’t…]

Forgive my square bracketed cynicism…

January air is thick with words like ‘resolution’, ‘goal’ and ‘objective’ as we gird our New Year loins to be better human beings — or just lose weight. And hard on the heels of this aspirational language is the ever-present ‘commit’.

Let’s look at this abused, over-used word.

‘Commit’ goes way back. Six hundred years, actually.

From the Latin committere, to join, unite or connect, it originally meant to ‘charge in trust, to entrust a task to someone’s care’. This is about giving someone a duty with scant freedom of action. To commit is to make a binding pledge — to ourselves or to others — to a cause, course of action or set of values. It’s an obligation.

When you’re truly committed, there’s no turning back.

From that we get the idea of literally consigning someone to prison or a mental institution, or a body to the earth (‘committal’), or figuratively, as in ‘commit to memory/paper/writing’. We also have the idea of perpetration, as in ‘commit a sin/crime’ or ‘commit suicide’.

So ‘commit’ is not some flippant, fly-by-night, flibbertigibbet of a word. It’s serious, charged with centuries of obligation and responsibility. Let’s not cheapen it and trivialise it by turning it into business jargon to flog products or services.

If your service is genuinely world-class, your customers will be screaming it from the digital rooftops. And if it’s not, stop telling us you want it to be. Here endeth the lesson.

Post script. This is my favourite quote on commitment, from WH Murray, the celebrated mountaineer, author and soldier:

Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative or creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans…that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves. too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have believed would have come his way.

Whatever you think you can do or believe you can, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it. Begin it now.”

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