My first ten years of life were spent in a small townhouse community which had a small playground in the middle. This neighborhood became increasingly Pakistani during our time there. The mother of one of my best friends would babysit most of the smallest kids in the neighborhood. She and my father would often sit and watch as the neighborhood kids played in the playground.
The subject of many of their conversations was arranged marriage. Hers had been, and she favored it. She argued that people in arranged marriages were more happy than people who married by choice. She pointed to a lower divorce rate among arranged marriages who ended up in countries where divorce was a feasible option. Interestingly, however, she was not going to push this on her own children. They were Muslim of course, but they also grew up to be thoroughly American kids, and even their parents expected them to approach marriage the American way.
I’ve often thought about her point of view, however. It is so alien to me, to those of us raised outside a culture like that. In fact, arranged marriages seem repellent, an artifact of an earlier time when liberty and independent thought did not have the cherished place in our shared values that they do today.
But what I take away from her perspective is that it is possible to be committed or uncommitted to something whether or not it was your choice to be a part of it in the first place. It’s possible to be committed to a marriage that was arranged for you, and uncommitted to a marriage you chose to enter. Similarly, it’s possible to be committed to the duties of citizenship of a country you were born in, and uncommitted to a country you immigrated to.
Marriages, civil society, and nations have a distinct existence. They always have flaws, and not just the sort that you can fix. Much like information entropy predicts that patching software bugs will create future software bugs, all unions have holes in them which ultimately cannot be completely filled. Commitment is about embracing your role in those unions, and making it your own, not regardless of those flaws but in spite of them.
There are no perfect unions any more than there are perfect people. Holding either to a strict standard of perfection is a recipe for disappointment and bitterness, and of forever finding excuses not to commit to anything. Much more healthy is having a standard for what is good enough to be realistic while still being idealistic enough to aspire to. Such ideals are not developed in isolation, but in partnership with the people in your life who you are committed to being in some relationship with.
I don’t think it’s possible to have a good life without commitment. Personal growth requires commitment to developing skills and gaining experience with various practices. And flourishing requires a commitment to developing your practical wisdom; the skill of living well.