What do you think of when you hear the word “contract?” If you’re an attorney, you may go directly to contract law. If you’re an employer, you probably think about employment contracts. It occurs to me that we are always engaging in contracts of one sort or another, many of which are not formal but are equally binding and often more sacred.

Marriage contracts, for example, are certainly legal ones but include much more than who gets what in the unfortunate conclusion called divorce. If I marry you, I promise to honor and respect you, treat you as I want to be treated, and keep all of the promises I have made to you. My best guess, due to the frequency of divorce, is that it’s these unspoken commitments that are violated more than the ones that are obvious to a marriage license.

As we approach the end of this troublesome year of 2020, I find myself thinking about the contracts that I have already in place and those that I seek to complete. My contract as an educator is much more than showing up, that which I promised in my employment documents. Teachers must inform, instruct, and enhance students with all of the energy available to do so. Anything less is a violation of my unwritten contract.

We also have contracts as parents. Signing a birth certificate only confirms that we are biological parents. After that, we have the responsibility to feed, clothe, protect, promote, and love our children. When possible, we also have contracts to provide college education and the ongoing availability to our children, both emotionally and psychologically.

Where is all this going? My suggestion is that you think about the many relationships that you have that you may not have viewed as contracts. If you are and have a true friend, your part of the contract is unconditionality and nonstop availability. If you are an employer, you must provide a safe place to work, a job that is appropriate and fulfilling, and reliable compensation. If you are a son or daughter, you have the responsibility to make certain that the final days of your parents are comfortable.

Thinking of these as contracts is not my way of making them scary or to be methodically constructed. The message is that we should be strengthened by the ways in which we can improve others, next year and for those that we are able to live. Happy 2021! Shalom.

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