Commitment: a Contract for Change

commitment-quotes-hd-wallpaper

“Say what you do, and then do what you say”

I have been blogging about the “Four C’s of Social Justice” these last few weeks. In week one, I discussed ConsultingCollaboration was covered in week two.  Last week, I talked about Clarification. This week, I will explain the concept ofCommitment, as it pertains to social justice programs.

We can understand this commitment in two ways.  First, we can be committed to social justice and equality. According to Antioch University, social justice involves actively committing to “advocacy for the elimination of violence and oppression, the alleviation of poverty, promotion of environmental justice and sustainability, and the diminution of inequality.”[1]

Being committed to social justice is simply not enough, however.  When we engage with communities to support them and help them achieve their goals, we need to also hold ourselves accountable for the promises and agreements we make with them.  This brings us to the second critical part of commitment – striving to always say what you do, and then do what you say!

In modern social jargon, the word, ‘commitment’ is both a thing (noun) and an action (verb).  According to many social development and leadership University workshops, “commitment implies passion, intensity, and duration, directed both towards group activity and intended outcomes”.[2] In this context, commitment is a ‘thing’.  This is fine and good on paper, but in ‘real space’ – on the ground, commitment must be realized as an action – more than a thing.  As Dumbledore explains to Harry in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling),

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities…

All too often, in social development projects, commitment becomes the thing – rather than actions and agreements we make with individuals and groups.  Sometimes, we even make light of our commitments.  As the popular joke goes, “I am committed… or should be…” In order for social change to occur, we need to move beyond an objective view of project commitments, committed funding, and a commitment to the ‘cause’.  Commitments must become actions, promises, and contracts to the partners we are collaborating with.  These ‘contracts’ we make with our collaborators are similar to marriage vows – we carefully consider what we are committing to, and then uphold our agreements… ‘For better or for worse’.

In a Canadian context, the government is legally responsible and committed to guarantee “Meaningful Consultation” to First Nations groups, under Section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982). Although this obligation is intended to help First Nations communities, however, many groups continue to be harmed and marginalized under new government resource policies which directly impact them.  I argue that this process has failed many First Nations communities, because – while the law ensures a commitment to consult – there is inadequate commitment to the needs and rights of the First Nations themselves.

A perfect example of this is with ‘meaningful consultation’ with First Nations communities directly involved in expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline project happening in BC.  For more information on this, check out http://bit.ly/1U5bhrf.  In this situation, government and industry consultants often seem more concerned with making sure that the pipeline proposal is passed – not with ensuring valid concerns of the First Nations are heard and implemented in final decisions.  As Sundance Chief and Tsleil-Waututh member Rueben George explained in an interview with CBC, many coastal First nations believe the proposal will pass, despite many environmental, health, and sustainability concerns these groups have (http://bit.ly/1NCeItp).

The reason Meaningful Consultation in Canada seems to fail many First Nations’ communities is that the government remains committed to their own resource use and economic objectives, rather than making commitments to First Nations communities which are meaningful to their needs.  If we expect to truly create real social change, we need to move past the idea of commitment as a ‘Thing’ and an obligation, and toward an ideal of committing to the needs of the communities we are helping.  This means entering into a committed relationship with each community we engage with.  Commitment, in this context, means we must accept the needs of our ‘partner’ as equally important to our own.

As a consultant, I must make a series of decisions when committing to a community.  Most importantly, I need to decide whether my own personal commitment to a mandate is more or less important than the needs and desires of the group I am partnered with.  Before I make any commitments to the group, I must decide whether or not I am prepared to do whatever it takes to help the community I have made promises to.  Once I make a commitment to these individuals, my commitment becomes a social contract which I work towards – for better or for worse.  Commitment is not a thing to be entered into lightly, or which emphasizes my own needs over my partners’.  Once I am committed, it becomes my responsibility to ensure that I do everything possible to follow the four C’s of my contract – Consult, Collaborate, Clarify, and Commit.

Real social change will happen when each of the four C’s become less about me and my objectives and more about really listening to and hearing the needs and desires of my partners’.  Next week, I will wrap up this blog series – and conclude with how these four C’s work together to help us ‘be the change we want to see”.  Until then, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible.


[1] Antioch University. At Our Core: AUNE’s Commitment to Social Justice, Diversity and Inclusion. www.antiochne.edu. Accessed May 19, 2016.

[2] The Social Change Model of Leadership Development. www.mu.uri.edu. Accessed May 20, 2016.

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