“Commitments” Prologue

Ever see Promises, Promises?

A Grammy-award-winning Broadway musical that ran for 1,281 performances from 1968 to 1972, this Burt Bacharach-Neil Simon-Hal David masterpiece gave rise to two great Dionne Warwick hits, “Promises, Promises,” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”

As entertaining as it was, Promises, Promises also had a serious side. Set in the highly charged corporate world of New York City in the late 1960s, Promises, Promises was a tragicomic tale of broken promises unfolding between husbands, wives and lovers.

The show’s farcical encounters between people in love and married people with lovers offered up an image of the way things are that can easily be traced back to the way things were between husbands and wives centuries before the musical’s Broadway premier on December 1, 1968.

The musical rang true in 1968—and again for audiences seeing the terrific 2011 Broadway revival—because it told a story as ageless as humanity: after people fail abjectly to do what they committed to do, they continue to make and break commitments again and again … and again!

Why do they do it? And, for that matter, what is the meaning of commitment? Is it the same thing as a promise? A vow? An oath? Should we look upon them all as the same?

Linguists and etymologists might argue that all these words do mean exactly the same thing.

Well, they don’t.

Understanding how these words differ—and why commitment is in a league by itself—is the key to learning from history rather than just repeating it. It also points to the secret sauce for making the right commitments at the right time, demanding the same of others, and making sure those commitments stick.

In this book, I often focus on marriages as one good way to figure out what commitments are, what they’re not, and why they work—or don’t. Although the history of marriages that lasted, and the sometimes sordid histories of marriages that did not, tell us a good deal about commitments, they do not come close to telling us everything we need to know. Yet there is evidence that no matter when or where or for what reason commitments are made, they are all the same. Successful commitments all work out for the same basic reasons. And, unsuccessful commitments all fail for the same basic reasons.

Wouldn’t life be easier if all successful commitments shared just one secret sauce, so we could simply stir in the right amount to the ones we make and then live happily ever after?

Let’s find out if they do.

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