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Commitment according to Eastwood and Redford.

Being an avid reader and movie buff, I was initially reluctant to read two recent bestsellers, The Bridges of Madison County and The Horse Whisperer, or see their movie adaptations. I read book and movie reviews, which described them as romantic soap operas, a hodgepodge recycling of old movies and bad books appealing only to love-starved individuals. However, my interest remained high due to their continued popularity, and because two of my favorite actors, Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford, agreed to direct and star in the film version of each novel, respectively.

After reading both books and seeing both movies, I was amazed at the similarities between them. At first glance, it would seem that Robert Walker's novel, set in the Iowa farm county, would have little to do with the wide-open spaces of Nicholas Evans's Montana. But if the four characters (Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid in Bridges and Annie MacLean and Tom Booker in Whisperer) could somehow get together, they would have a lot in common to talk about.

These books, each the first novel by its author, were both on the national best-seller's list for months, selling multimillion copies worldwide, achieving both literary and financial success for their two previously unknown writers. Each story describes middle-aged romance, set in the American West, between a married but lonely woman and a footloose but sensitive man. However, each ending, in which the lovers reluctantly part forever so that they can do the right thing and resume their responsibilities as spouses and parents, as blue-collar and career professionals, is serious business as it relates to decisions we in corrections make every day.

Early in Bridges, the narrator makes the thought-provoking observation that we live "in a world where personal commitment in all of its forms seems to be shattering." I stopped once i read that line and asked myself if I believed that to be true. Then I asked myself to what I'm committed. My wife and family? My church and community? My friends and associates? My career and "clients?"

Often, the people you admire most, those who make powerful impressions on you, build a set of positive beliefs with a set of equally positive behaviors. It's this combination of positive attitudes and actions that form the foundation of our commitments. All successful people within our profession seem to share a fundamental and similar set of commitments. They include:

* Commitment to Self: Committed people present a strong and positive image to others. They act as a positive force in all situations, combining strength with a sense of humility. They take responsibility for their decisions and stand up for their personal beliefs, acting on the basis of total integrity and honesty. They listen to others' opinions or criticisms, admitting their mistakes to improve themselves.

* Commitment to Staff: Committed people help others succeed. This is demonstrated by their willingness to spend the necessary time and energy listening to and talking with others. It's showing concern, making staff feel and act like winners, creating an atmosphere where people treat one another with courtesy and respect. Working in such an environment creates confidence in ourselves and one another and enables us to set and accomplish goals.

* Commitment to our Clients: Unfortunately, some staff view our clients as a necessary evil and the source of most of their problems. However, committed staff strive to provide useful services to them, whether custodial, educational or psychological. This requires being responsive through continually listening to their needs and helping them solve their problems. Programs that can give our clients hope and something positive to work toward heighten their commitment to acceptable forms of behavior within our institutions and communities.

* Commitment to Quality: Committed people give meaning and a sense of purpose to their jobs. They provide focus and direction, assuring a successful completion to all tasks. These individuals accomplish goals by setting realistic deadlines and ensuring that they are met. For an agency to operate smoothly as a well-integrated system, staff must complete all work in a timely, organized and professional manner. A constant focus on quality is essential, for a job worth doing is worth doing right.

* Commitment to our Agencies: Committed people project pride in their agencies and the overall organizations for which they work, and instill that same pride in other staff. All of us want to be a part of something positive, to know that we are providing a useful and important service to others. The key is a consistent, conscientious commitment to meeting the needs of the public, our staff and clients. Committed individuals communicate the importance of what we stand for.

The fictional characters, Robert and Fransesca, and Tom and Annie, met, fell in love and shared a few magical days in passionate romances, never to see each other again after their affairs. Although desperately wanting to run away together, each was dedicated to and aware of the other's commitments: Francesca's to her husband and two children; Robert to his career as a global free-lance photographer; Annie to her family and career as a magazine editor; and Tom, a cowboy, to the severely disturbed horses he treats. Each knew that his or her continued relationship with the other would destroy those commitments and thereby destroy each other in the process. Each chose to live his or her life without the other.

Successful people show this same type of loyalty to their commitments. They don't blame their commitments, but live up to the challenge of them. Acting as a positive force, we are the process, not just the product. Our active involvement can flow to others. We can be models of success.

Each of us makes commitments, both to ourselves and to others. For each commitment, this means developing the proper attitude and demonstrating a genuine interest. By taking personal responsibility, we can have an effect on our fellow staff members, our clients, the quality of services we perform, and ultimately, our organizations and professions.


Evans, N. 1995. The horse whisperer. New York: Delacorte Press.

Hersey, P. and K.H. Blanchard. 1969. Management of organizational behavior. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall Inc.

Walker, R.J. 1992. The bridges of Madison County. New York: Warner Books Inc.

Charles H. Stewart Jr. is a facilities regional administrator for the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, Central Region.
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Title Annotation:Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford
Author:Stewart, Charles H., Jr.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Apr 1, 1999
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