The Intellectual Integrity of Commitment

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Drinking coffee with friends, I loved myself dearly.  We all did really.  We would talk for hours about the meaning of life, referencing Kierkegaard, Camus, Dostoevsky, or any number of courageous thinkers we admired.  And I remember looking upon issue after issue with cool detachment as if I were a scientist observing what I saw from a microscope.  We’d examine different schools of thought and discuss their positive points and subsequent weaknesses for hours on end.  And while this experience was an important part of my personal development I must confess that today, I see it as an impediment to true knowing.

Part of the problem was my unwillingness to act or take a stand.  I viewed commitment as the antithesis of intellectual maturity.

Consider this fantastic statement from theologian, Karl Rahner.

“Thus it is that a person is not free if he maintains his freedom through skepticism, if he does not get involved, if, through a dreadful fear of falling into error, he will not respond to an insight in absolute terms; he ends up having struck the worse bargain.  He lives, lives once, and sets up something that cannot be called back…. Moreover, it is quite impossible to function in a dimension this side of commitment.  In fact, the attempt to remain neutral is nothing other than refusal to respond thoughtfully to decisions that arise in the actual carrying out of one’s life.  For at least one commitment is inevitable, and that is the decision to see life as an absurdity or as the expression of an unutterably mysterious meaning.  In short, intellectual integrity requires that one summon the courage necessary to spiritual decision, even when this decision is burdened with all the uncertainty, darkness, and fear of a mind bound to history and the finite, a mind conscious of its limitations but nevertheless resolved to commit itself.”

We must be mindful of the seduction that is “sitting on the sidelines”.  In Rahner’s case, he was looking at the broader scope of “meaning” in life.   However, his message is equally powerful and pointed when we speak of growth in other areas.

Consider professional development as one such area.  We are taught to critically analyze the work being done in our profession so we can form our own hypotheses.  This is a fine first step, but eventually, we need to stand for something.  We need to find that “something” where we say…ALL IN!  That kind of commitment will not come about through absolute knowing.  Each of us must step into the great unknown if we are to achieve success at that level.

Understand that your commitment is not a weakness.

Your courage to take a step forward in the work you do is, in the end, the highest form of intellectual integrity.



  1. Verline  November 23, 2010

    Thanks David,. excellent food for thought!

  2. Elizabeth A Hall  November 23, 2010

    Timely , well put.

  3. lisa wilson  November 23, 2010

    holy cow, david. that was deep! i loved and am copying the quote. it speaks to a dilemna i have been trying to address at work for some time now, as well as the personal side. as always, your writing is food for the soul. thanks.

  4. Monty Knight  November 25, 2010

    David: An important assertion, mindful of such (as diversely similar, as similarly diverse) thinkers from Camus (the existentialist atheist) to Tillich (one of whose great books is The Courage to Be). As the late William Sloane Coffin put it, the tragic life is less the unexamined one than the uncommitted one; or again, less “Cogito ergo sum,” than “amo cogito sum.” Perhaps either/or, rather than both/and thinking is the issue, that one can be committed (this I believe/know) and humble (what I don’t know or necessarily believe/trust), not just committed or humble; i.e. that such stances (however tentative) are more complementary and exclusive. Your bud, Monty

  5. Monty Knight  November 25, 2010

    I had a typo in what I just submitted. Coffin’s observations was “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am) as less human than “amo ergo sum” (I love, therefore I am), i.e. that commitment trumps skepticism.

  6. Jeffrey Nigro  November 29, 2010

    I agree that commitment and “knowing it like you know your name” is important if we are to bring any success into our personal, business, spiritual/internal realms…BUT (you knew there was a but) sometimes this can lead us down a path of sticking with what may not be the correct path at the correct moment in time. Certainly we can see it in “black & white” thinking in our patients and ourselves…forgive my contrariness – I believe I do get the point: don’t dip your toe in: immerse.

    I am simply saying recognize when circumstances change, people change and you change & it is time for a paradigm shift. I personally have had faith in people, situations and remained committed and honorable – personally & professionally – only to find myself completely screwed over & caught up in some ancient repetition compulsion (aided by being committing with my whole heart – which I always do or why even bother).

    As always thank you for the brain cud – always much to “chew” on in your posts.

  7. Cordes Simpson  November 29, 2010

    “Real courage is not in how much of life you can keep out but in how much you can let in.”

  8. David Diana  November 29, 2010

    Love the input and food for thought! Thanks everyone.

  9. Keiron  April 19, 2011

    whoa! Great post! It totally woke me up.

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