In a broad sense, commitment can be defined as 1) an act of committing something, or 2) engagement in or loyalty to something. In its first meaning, the word “commitment” is mainly used in law, standing for a consignment to a penitentiary institution or a compulsory stay at a mental hospital. It also means an act of referring a bill or a matter to a legislative committee, or a court order sending someone to prison. In this sense, it is similar to the word “confinement”, or restraining someone’s liberty. There can also be found other synonyms like restriction, restraint, constraint, consignment, detainment. For example, warrant of commitment is issued when someone is to be imprisoned.
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The second meaning is much more abstract and broad. It can be described through such synonyms as loyalty, dedication, engagement, devotion, adherence. The word “commitment” takes something of the meanings of all these words but adds to it a meaning of obligation, a pledge, an oath. Dedication means devotion to somebody or something completely of one’s own free will without any sign of the restriction of one’s will. By contrast, commitment implies that there is an obligation, either to a third party or to oneself. For example, the expression “their deep commitment to the ideals of liberty and democracy” means that somebody is devoted to the above-mentioned ideals and that they feel obliged to do everything to promote them – they do not simply believe in them and show regard to them, they feel obliged to coordinate their actions with these ideals. In this situation, there will be no legal consequences if they break their obligation but it will be a matter of ethics. Thus, devotion or dedication refers mainly to feelings and emotions whereas commitment engages also actions and obligations. It is no coincidence that the word “commitment” is also used in a sense of an engagement or an obligation, for example, “the company has made a commitment to increase wages for the workers”, or “John has got too many commitments so he’s overloaded with work for the next week”, etc. It is obvious that though the actions of the company or John stem from their own free will, they cannot cancel these obligations easily in case they change their minds; a company may be dedicated to increasing wages but this dedication does not require them to increase wages in fact. On the contrary, when they make a commitment, they are obliged to fulfill it.
One of the most successful attempts to define commitment can be found in the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Its online version states that commitment is “when you are willing to give your time and energy to something that you believe in, or a promise or firm decision to do something” or “something that you must do or deal with that takes your time” (Commitment). This definition also implies that there is an action and obligation in addition to dedication and devotion. One having a commitment is expected to “give time and energy”, which means that an action usually stems from a commitment, and the use of the verb “must” in the definition supposes that a Thus, the word “commitment” can be defined as an act of committing and a dedication to a definite course of action that implies obligation.