Vail Daily column: Your word is still your bond
I spend a lot of time extolling the necessity of contracts. To have a written memorialization of an agreement can work wonders in business and certain personal contexts. It allows people to easily remind themselves of their obligations and the consequences for failing to abide by such responsibilities. Viewed differently, a contract is a bulwark to protect an innocent party from one whose motives are less than pure.
In the course of explaining why contracts are important, I have set up old-timers as straw men, pointing out the naivete of their agreement-less approaches. In the legal world, these grizzled contractors may be neophytes, but in the real world, they are to be emulated. They intuitively understand the simple maxim that we seem to have forgotten: do what you say you are going to do.
WE SHOULDN’T NEED CONTRACTS
A handshake is not merely a greeting, it is a covenant. It is lamentable that we have “progressed” to a time when the minute details of an agreement must be hashed out in inscrutable legalese. Almost all modern contracts now contain an integration clause, which specifically disclaims reliance on any statements or promises made prior to the execution of the agreement. This begs the questions: what was the point of all of that previous discussion? Were those words worthless? It would seem so.
To a person of integrity, the concept of an illusory promise makes as much sense as an icemaker in the Arctic. When such a woman or man says that they will build something for you, they build it for the price that you said that you would pay them. It is as simple as that, even if the project is a skyscraper instead of a doghouse. A contract is simply redundant and only made theoretically necessary by the unfortunate predilection of bad apples to screw over someone else for their own personal gain. We really should not need contracts, but we do. Thanks, sociopaths. You are always ruining things for everyone else.
BUILDING A REPUTATION
While the idea of personal accountability is applicable to macro-level matters, it is even more important in the quotidian sphere, where it would make no sense to wordsmith a convoluted document. If you plan to have lunch with someone at a specific time, make sure to show up. Texting five minutes prior to the scheduled appointment to apologize for not making it is wholly unacceptable, except in true emergencies. Your counterpart has taken time out of their day to spend time with you and their time is just as valuable as yours.
Your word is inextricably linked to your reputation, which in turn can make or break your success, particularly in this seemingly ever-shrinking valley. Due to bad experiences, there are now an alarming amount of my professional and personal acquaintances who I simply do not trust to follow through on their promises. Certainly, these are not people on whom I would ever spend money or with whom I would spend time that could be better spent on essentially anything else.
THE GOLDEN RULE
At its core, like all things, the importance of one’s word is rooted in the most fundamental of all principles: the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have done to you. You would be decidedly irked if you got stood up for a meeting, or were left unpaid after your hard work, or if your house was falling down because the contractor did not add the supports he said that he would. Use that frustration as motivation to prevent you from doing the same thing to someone else. The simple desire to avoid being a hypocrite can be a powerful incentive.
We live in a world where it has become necessary to get everything in writing. Instead of assuming people are going to do what they say, we have become cynical/realistic enough to anticipate being disappointed. The disconnect between what is legally prudent and what is socially beneficial has never been greater. To bridge this divide, we need to reestablish the preeminence of basic human decency. Like hipsters who have rediscovered the joys and benefits of artisan chocolate-making, it is possible to adapt forgotten traditions to our modern existence. Awareness is the first step, followed by implementation by influential community members.
Rather than it being cool to be so blase about responsibilities, we should elevate reliability and trustworthiness as the prime social virtues. That ship may have already sailed, but I am on that oceanic voyage and I hope to have a crew to help me navigate the tricky waters. We have to start somewhere.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner and mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.
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