Vulnerable Commitments

Kierkegaard argues that the only way to have a meaningful life is to make an infinite commitment to something finite and vulnerable.  I think this shows up in two ways: a macro-level and a micro-level.

On the macro-level our entire life is defined by what we care about, and to the extent that we are honest about how vulnerable it is to loss, we are honest about how fragile our self is.  If we deny that honest, clear-eyed perspective and pretend we are not taking a risk by being who we are and caring about what we care about (and we can deny it in so many ways, pretending to believe for example that some facts about our world , or who our friends are, or our family or country or history or body or health status tell us who we are and what we should care about and thus ensure our safety and invulnerability) — we have to dissociate and drain the joy out of life.  The more openness to grief we have the more openness to joy.

On the micro-level at any given moment we can care about what we’re doing as if it actually matters, or we can protect ourselves by pretending that who we really are is someone else, what we really care about is something other than what we are dealing with right now, our true home is the future or the past, our true soul-mates are somebody other than the people we are talking to right now.  To the extent we fail to take an interest in the moment we are going to be bored with our life as we live it.

Both of these — the macro- and micro-levels — play out in communication.  If we are honest about our vulnerability with others and share their own vulnerable commitments with them our language is genuine.  We share others lives and they share ours.

On the micro-level if we are not really present, if we flee from the moment into some intellectual haven or past or future imagination, we are boring.  Even if what we have to say is interesting.

Every time we communicate ourselves to someone else that moment of communication is itself a vulnerable life, trying to flower, and risking starving to death or being stamped out.


5 thoughts on “Vulnerable Commitments

  1. N.S. Palmer says:

    I don’t know a thing about Kierkegaard, but if infinite commitment is love, then I agree. Unless we love something, or someone, then we’re only going through the motions of life. Love gives us direction. As Shakespeare said, “Tis the star to every wandering bark whose worth’s unknown although his height be taken” (mine is 5’8″, or 5’10” if I’m lying).

    Commitments of that kind are necessarily few. For them, and only for them, we are willing to say “This, or nothing.” If we are honest with ourselves, we know we might end up with nothing. Even then, however, nothing is not the result, because in striving for the prize we can achieve great things along the way. We may take comfort in that.

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