Broken Contracts

Break FreeThere are contracts between people, and there are contracts between lawyers – the latter existing because contracts between people are fragile.

One of the reasons  I haven’t been writing was because I was negotiating a contract – a business deal. It started with a handshake, as so many business deals do. This was a contract between people, between men – me having something someone else wanted, he wanting something I have. The deal was for a certain amount, the deal to be completed by lawyers the next day.

The next day never arrived – instead, I got another representative of the company and family. And, right before Carnival here in Trinidad and Tobago, I was given a downpayment for a price for roughly 70% of the original handshake. I smiled and laughed, knowing I wouldn’t accept that offer, and returned their downpayment after Carnival. I simply showed that I understand the value they placed in shaking hands by returning the favor. I think they got the point.

Now I know how they do business and I can say that they don’t really respect contracts between people – I won’t name them, there’s really no need to. It’s no more than an attempt at a reverse bait and switch maneuver, as basic as that – and what I found was that once I got past that, they had nothing. So I raised my price, and they said they wouldn’t buy – and called me the next day, still trying to get me below the price of our original handshake.

“Do you think you can get that price from anyone in Trinidad and Tobago right now?”, I was asked churlishly. I responded in a firm tone, “Do you think I care?” 

And I laughed, putting it in the hands of someone the next day to deal with. I’ve seen too many contracts broken over the years – more than most, less than a few – to really care that much about a broken contract. I put it in the hands of someone else; I have no patience for people with money saying that the price is too high. Clearly, the value is not – pay the price or move on. 

It’s as if they do not matter to others, as if one’s word doesn’t matter, as if a promise is so easily broken. Trust is not something understood – Honor and Commitment are Gordian knots to be sliced.

And it’s not just business.

Social Contracts

 

There was a time when social contracts were more valued – we find pockets here and there among the rubble of civilization where they are still valued, where a promise or a handshake means something. When someone’s word meant something, when they were careful what they promised.

Now, we gamble on people’s greed in things more and more – not just financially but otherwise, be it emotional or otherwise.

And one thing I have learned over the years is that a world where one’s word is worth something is becoming smaller every year. Marriages, divorces, political promises, government reality, and so on. And because of that we do not trust.

And a civilization where we do not trust is not really a civilization.

A person’s word should mean something. Should. But now, unless you get a witness and everyone signs, it’s empty – expended air lost to the atmosphere, needless noise. And even with lawyers…

We are surrounded by broken contracts.

Solitude/Relationships (Advice to a Young Man)

Trust?The first person you have to trust is yourself. This means you have to be able to depend on yourself first, then others.

You have to stay open and appreciate the people you have close to you. You might stay close with them, you might not – there’s a whole bunch of stuff that happens in life that can drive people close together or far apart.

Some of it can be good or bad, either way – you can get stuck with the wrong people close to you for parts of your life, as an example, or you might drift apart from some of the good people.

Life isn’t very good at making sense, and it has the capacity to drive smart people crazy. It does sometimes – and sometimes, smart people just don’t act normal (there is a difference). Nobody knows exactly where that line is, but people go to school and draw it with big fat neon crayons. Stay on the right side of those lines – the side where you’re not considered crazy by people in white coats armed with neon crayons and diplomas signed by other people with diplomas who got them, eventually, from someone without a diploma if you go back far enough.

But back to people leaving. They leave, new ones come in, new ones become old ones, some die, some move away, some change (or suddenly you find out who they really are…).

In all of that, you have to be your own rock. You have to be that one person that you can depend on, and you also will be the one person that others depend on – if only one person who you might even know or appreciate, or a crowd of people that you despise.

You’ll figure it out. You don’t have a choice. But remember, enjoy what you have while you have it, and understand it’s not yours – that at some point, it might disappear – but you’ll have the memories to smile at, the people who you absolutely wish the worst on, and you’ll move through life in directions you won’t expect.

The only thing you truly have is who you are; you do not yet know that completely, you will explore it as you grow older. You will think you know who you are at points, and then you will learn something new – it happens fast at first, it slows over time as you stay true to who you have found you are. One day, you will look back.

And one day you may give advice to a younger man.

Adapted from a conversation with a teenager. 

Respect, Trust

RespectWe know a few things about respect: it has to be earned and it’s hard to get back when lost. This parallels trust – trust and respect go hand in hand this way.

Can you trust someone you don’t respect? Can you respect someone you don’t trust? There is nuance in there beyond the black and white responses, the default ‘no’ we are taught as children.

We can trust someone we do not respect to do what is in their ‘nature’. In fact, some even expect it of them: A simple label can conjure up images of what such a person is or might do based on what they have done. That label and ‘trust’ is what builds out our negative prejudices (yes, there are good prejudices as well). Feminists often make the case that simply being a woman means that they are ‘trusted’ to be certain *things*, objectified in their own way. Black Live Matters makes a similar case about people of African descent (paying lip service to other minorities), Blue Lives Matter makes a similar case about police. We trust for better and worse that people will act in certain ways based on other things in common.

It should scare people slightly that this is how we write our software that analyzes data as well.

But there are good things about such stereotypes, too. We are more friendly with certain people, more comfortable around certain people where we blend in well. Those of lesser pallor will quite obviously feel more comfortable with those of their pallor, and those of greater pallor the same. People who wear jeans are more comfortable around those that wear jeans, those in suits feel more comfortable around people of business attire.

The problem isn’t respect as much as it is trust. It’s what we trust others to do that is the problem, our brains evolved for survival in a planet that we have become dominant over except in a few special cases.

So the next time you distrust someone – which is just trust in a different direction (for the nerds, it’s a vector instead of a scalar) – take a moment and allow that trust to change.

Or don’t and submit yourself to the status quo.

Fear

fearI saw fear today – naked fear. And it was a fear of me – not of surprise, not of any threat, not of any of my doing.

Bullies drink that fear; some even distill it for their own consumption. Some go the extra mile and cultivate it through manipulation. It was very uncomfortable having it directed at me. I take great pains to avoid it because I am no bully. I’m not large. I don’t do anything particularly scary. In fact, if you were to run into me these days, you would think anything but.

The typical greeting I get these days is, “You got fat.” But that’s another post. 

I have seen the fear that I saw today before. It’s the fear that someone has when they believe that you wield some power or authority over them, that you have the capacity to harm them in some way, and I would like to think a healthy person would recoil.

Fear is a problem. I’ve known fear in ways that have left me unafraid of most things; but once you know fear – real fear – you know it. And a person who is afraid is not rational, and is a person you can’t deal with in a meaningful way.

So I left. And I sit here thinking tonight how to address that person’s fear.

And the answer is trust.