In recent weeks I’ve been thinking about obligations. I haven’t been able to help it, as I’ve done things to cause some of the give-and-take relationships across the segments of my life to bark at me, but not in that cheerful tail-wagging way that says welcome home.
Imagine how this little guy might sound at first. Then imagine him growing a few inches every day until he is 10 feet tall and standing in a narrow doorway and you have to deal with him before you can do anything else.
It’s like this:
It took me too long to call my mother.
Consider a small pebble at the bottom of a backpack. I slung that pack on my back the day after I last called my mom.
A couple of weeks went by with the pebble in the bag on my back. I didn’t feel it.
Before I knew it, a month had passed. The backpack now contained a rock the size of a grapefruit. It wasn’t particularly heavy but when I sat down and leaned back, I could feel it prodding at me.
A few weeks later, I was carrying a boulder. I called my mother. The boulder disappeared instantly along with the 20 heavy wool coats I didn’t realize I was wearing over it.
So… discharging an obligation is a relief and should be done before it is cause for preoccupation and dismay. That is not breaking news, but it is worth a mention.
How Much Obliged?
The problem with obligations isn’t that we owe but that we owe more that the principal. When we contract with another in any way other than literally with lawyers – verbally, socially, professionally, informally, charitably – interest is implied and calculated if only in our own minds. Whatever you call it – going the extra mile, giving 110 percent, paying it forward – extraordinary commitment means giving at least a little if not a lot more than just what is expected.
I didn’t invent this concept. It’s called the Golden Rule.
You ask me for a favor. If I say yes, I am saying yes to doing it cheerfully. Kindly. Passionately. If it’s in confidence I take it to my grave. I am not obliged or somewhat obliged. I am much obliged. There is satisfaction and personal growth in every job that’s done better than right.
However, we have to remember that this does not go both ways. Another person is not so much obliged to you.
We live in a world where “much obliged” (which used to be synonymous with “thank you”) isn’t used anymore. Gratitude no longer implies debt. In fact, if you say “thank you,” you’re very likely to hear “no problem” in response. Because that’s the long and the short of it: it’s not a problem. It’s as done as it’s ever going to be and the expectation is that both sides now move on.
Our mental health and productivity depends on not expecting anything extra from others whom we’ve asked for help. We do not have the right to take others for granted or to expect any more than what they originally agreed to. We don’t get to keep moving the finish line like we might with our own commitments. We do get to manage within the original scope of the agreement, to accept whatever we get, and to move on. No problem.
- If I agree to do it for him, I’m much obliged.
- If he agrees to help me, no problem.