Meanings: “Committee”

June 8, 2012

Nobody, it seems, likes “committees.”  To speak of a committee suggests long hours, tiresome discussions, uncertain responsibilities, perhaps even the likelihood of being second guessed. Hardly anyone aspires to spend more time on more committees.

And yet there’s a very appealing metaphor buried — barely visible — in the word “committee.”  It comes out of the word “commit.”  Etymology.com tells us:

committee Look up committee at Dictionary.com
1620s, from commit + -ee, or else a revival of Anglo-Fr. commite, pp. of commettre “to commit,” from L. committere (see commit). Originally “person to whom something is committed” (late 15c.); the 17c. sense was a body of such people.

A committee is a group to whom some matter has been committed.  That’s more appealing, isn’t it?  If we dislike committees, in general, don’t we feel drawn to our commitments? Aren’t our commitments among the things about which we feel most strongly?

Perhaps the problem is in being frequently second-guessed; perhaps the problem is one of trust.  When we create a committee or ask people to serve on a committee, perhaps we should remember that we are entrusting them with a responsibility.  We should let them bear that responsibility, and thank them for it.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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