The noun, “contract,” is prevalently employed in the context of business relations, to signify an enforceable, promissory exchange between two or more parties, concerning the performance of specific agreed upon obligations. Such business agreements might typically concern, the sale of merchandise or property, the extension of financing or the performance of services. Most contractual undertakings can be either express (written) or implied (oral or situational).
However, the word, “contract,” can be permissibly employed, as well, in the context of many human (non-business), interactive relationships, to describe the necessary social mandates and assumptions that accommodate societal living and interactional behavior. Obviously, such binding societal agreements and behavioral mandates, are implied.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French 18th Century philosopher, is best known for his concept of “The Social Contract,” which defines a transactional relationship in which the individual, contractually surrenders certain of his personal rights to (his) society, in exchange for the benefits of membership and for the common good.
Since ancient times, marriage has always been considered a contractual relationship, with several attendant and implicit obligations by reason of its vital societal importance. Some cultures, provide, additionally, for a written document, as for example, the traditional Hebrew practice of the bride and groom signing a written marriage contract (the “Chupa”), in the presence of the assembled wedding party and the officiating clergyman.
“Societal contracts” are implied by necessity and relationship. Societally and socially affirming folkways and behaviors, are recognized and mutually complied with, by members of every society; these include, as examples, handshaking or some alternate form of social recognition, offers of neighborly assistance when needed, mutual recognition of certain secular and historic holidays, acceptable dress, accepted rules of common hospitality and decency, shared response to disaster, observance of expected familial responsibilites, participation in joint enterprise, and many other implicit and binding social obligations.
From an anthropological view, homo sapiens eventually concluded that living in society was vastly superior to his prior solo existence; the latter involved a daily, desperate search for food and habitation, as well as constant exposure to danger from predatory animals and marauders. Living in society with other humans however, necessitated the evolution of mutually binding understandings and assumptions, relating to behavior and communal authority (Rousseau’s “Social Contract”). The obvious success of the societal mode of living was, in large part, due to man’s willingness to comply with uniform, tacitly accepted, social responsibilities and mandatory interactive discipline. These implied understandings were contractual, and enforceable by an appointed agency of the communty. It is a tribute to the innate nature of mankind, that for the most part, these implied “contractual” undertakings were universally observed, making possible, the continued growth of even larger and more sophisticated societal groups.
As life became more complex, supplemental rules and understandings, most,unrelated to basic survival and mandatory behavior evolved, of necessity. This was especially true and applicable to advances in communication, such that, in contemporary times, inter-active communication has inarguably become part of the social infrastructure. Yet, despite the sophisticated growth of common language and the development of modern forms of communication, certain problems persisted regarding human interaction, possibly due to the increasing number and kind of relatively complex relationships, possibly due to the exponential speed of technical and social change, or more likely, attributable to human failings.
We find it frustrating, that the communal responsibility, in conversation, to be clear, and at the very least, marginally understandable, is often ignored. The obligation, of a party to a conversation, in fairness, to exercise at least a modicum of care, to state that which he had previously resolved to say is a material flaw, if not also a contractual wrong. By reason of the speaker’s prior intention, he will, no doubt, “truthfully,” and adamantly, insist on a statement having been said, despite the fact that such intended message was, in fact, never articulated. The predictable result is a possible misunderstanding by the parties, and its proximate, eventual ramifications, be they of slight, or of a serious nature.
Accordingly, we would, respectfully suggest, a mandatory “Rider” to Rousseau’s Social Contract, expressly providing, by its terms, for a contractual obligation, to consider, specifically, what one intends to say, in advance of any significant conversation, so that there will be a better possibility of actually saying it. **
** Also recommended for family members and spouses.