A recent New York Times article from David Brooks visits contemporary bailing culture, where it’s become easier than ever before to commit to something and then back out last minute. Before smart phones and the ever-present internet, canceling was so much more difficult and time consuming. I first noticed (and started participating in) the bail culture primarily through events scheduled via Facebook. The RSVP system made it so simple to reply yes to something that Yes basically became a sign of support rather than an actual RSVP. Friends were essentially saying “Sounds like fun!” rather than “I’ll definitely be there”. Maybe (now Interested) provided an even more explicit endorsement of bailing. One could have the appearance of support without the burden of committal. When hosting parties and events I quickly learned to only expect the Yes’s and even then to be prepared for a few “so sorry, but I’m swamped with work” texts last minute.
While I’m definitely not a stranger to bailing, especially on Friday night commitments after a long week with the couch and Netflix beckoning me home, there’s no denying that there is a cost to the false commitment culture. How many times can a person bail before inviting them starts become a second thought. What is the value of a friendship when it’s not worth committing to?
To help combat these tendencies, Mr. Brooks recommends three simple bail barriers:
First, is it for a good reason (your kids unexpectedly need you, a new kidney became available for your transplant) or is it for a bad reason (you’re tired, you want to be alone)?
Second, did you bail well (sending an honest text, offering another date to get together) or did you bail selfishly (ghosting, talking about how busy your life is, as if you were the only person who matters)?
Third, did you really think about the impact on the other person? (I’ve learned it’s almost always a mistake to bail on somebody’s life event — wedding, birthday party, funeral — on the grounds that your absence won’t be noticed.)
I try to challenge my own bailing instinct and I love the idea of thinking through a specific lens. Why do I want to bail? How should I communicate it? And is it really something I shouldn’t skip out on for the sake of the other party? I’ll take this one step further and add an addendum to #3, how would feel if the other person were bailing on me. A little bit of empathy and sympathy can go a long way. So here’s to making some commitments and actually showing up!