Aaron W. Voyles continues to explore the gap between our commitments and our action.
For several weeks, I’ve been discussing commitment and responsibility. I do so because of their connection to my work with college men. There has been a lot of talk within higher education and the media about gender-based violence, as well as issues of privilege, misconduct of men, and more.
As an educator of college men, I began to investigate my own commitments. In many ways, my commitments mirror what I feel the larger field of Student Affairs in higher education is after. Educators (hopefully) value that every student, regardless of gender, has a safe and supportive environment in college.
When looking at my role and responsibility in this commitment, I had to first break it down to something more specific that I deal with: I am committed to having residence hall students who have the resources to support each other in a time of crisis.
Next, I had to look at what I was doing or not doing. One of the examples for my situations was that I saw that I did not require my staff members to complete additional programs to talk about crises with their students. I can’t say if my doing so would make my commitment come true, but it might help.
The idea with responsibility is that I can only control the things within my sphere of influence, and not the others. If this value is important to me, then I can take actions that support my value. Through looking at what I was doing and not doing to support this, I discovered a place where I could take action.
This investigation leads to another question, which is what might be preventing me from doing this action? If I know I support this value and this action would also support it, then why wasn’t I already doing it? The answer doesn’t necessarily always lie in laziness or a lack of thought, but instead in competing commitments.
Competing commitments, a concept from Kegan and Lahey (2009), are purposed to help us find out what motivates us against what we espouse to want. In my case, when I review why I am not requiring those programs, it comes from wanting to give my staff autonomy. I want to let my staff interact with their hall, determine what the needs and interests of the hall are, and then program to build community from and around those aspects.
A competing commitment is not necessarily a bad thing. In this case, for instance, it comes from a place of wanting to give space for staff members to lead without me micromanaging or telling them what to do. However, it can also come with assumptions or fears. Would my staff revolt if I required a particular type of program? Would the programs be bad and unhelpful because staff wouldn’t be invested in something so rigidly determined?
There is no easy answer. Where those assumptions and fears collide with the fear of not doing anything on your commitment is where the discussion has to go. Perhaps those fears are justified and a required program is not the way to go. In that case, I need to look back at my original commitment and what types of responsibility would work or that I can commit to doing.
The other option is that the benefits of this action are greater than non-action. At that point, I would need to begin to talk to my staff about the importance of making this change and why we would shift our requirements. Timing may be an issue too: do I want to change it in the middle of a school year or introduce it in the fall?
These internal dialogues need not stay internal either. If you have a good team or cohort, you can engage them in a conversation about competing commitments. Though I have chosen to highlight a simplistic example here to illustrate the basic mechanics of this process, with the right thoughts and the right dialogues this can be a conversation that widens and deepens with issues about which we care.
If you have been following along in this series of articles, I encourage you to continue to investigate your commitment from this perspective and see if it gives new light to the way you think about it. The more depth of thought we put into our commitments, the more likely we are to know if what we are doing makes sense to reach our goals.
Kegan, R. & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to change: How to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organization. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Ditching the Dunce Cap is a weekly Friday column from Aaron W. Voyles on the University of Texas-Austin. He welcomes your comments. This column is not affiliated with the university.
—Photo Sydney Missionary Bible College/Flickr
—Edits by Nancy Lien
Also in Ditching the Dunce Cap:
Broken Lantern Blues
Speaking with the Language of Responsibility
My “Career” as a Rock Star
Do We Just Complain About College Men?
I Can’t Write About Football
To Ditch the Dunce Cap
Can You Manage the College Male?
“Have at it, Boys” and College Men
The Challenge of Male Mentorship
Becoming a Beard Mentor
College Made Me Think I Hated Beer
An Ode to My College Roommate
Examining the Axe Effect
When Will You Grab Your Saw?
Do You Know the Mega-Dump?
If the Shoe Fits, Cheat