We live in a time where we sign for many things like career employment contracts; or credit cards; or online purchases; or student, car or home loans; or accepting merchandise to sell in fundraisers; or papers so our children can participate in field trips, community events or sports' teams or any other endeavors in our lives which entail reading documents and signing off on something.
What I've noticed a lot is the habit of many who sign documents either after reading them and kind of "blowing off" the words and expectations to follow the letter of the documents, or just signing documents without reading them and still arguing points included in said documents even though the person, group, organization or company issuing the document and setting the terms have the signed agreements in hand, but the signer might think that the words don't matter, or that everything's always negotiable, or it should just be for everyone else and not for them.
I think that kind of mentality is having, and has had, huge effects on the economic situation in our country today. Many are not living up to signed agreements regarding repayment of credit card purchases, car payments, tuition paybacks, home loans, home equity loans, etc. As a result, our economy is in rather shabby condition, to put it mildly, despite what those in Washington want to say about it.
I think many who sign employment contracts and then don't live up to that agreement for the full-time extent of said contact, then want to hold out and/or renegotiate before the expiration of the original agreement are ludicrous. I can see, if employers want to renegotiate and give more before the duration of the first agreement, that's fine, but if someone signs an agreement for a three-year period at a certain salary and employers don't want to pay more before the contract expires, the signer should live up to what they signed in the first place. I also feel employers and owners have a right to place certain expectations in that contract, and as long as they're constitutional and safe, and someone signs said agreement, these should not be questioned or negotiated after the contract is signed. I believe in unions and negotiating in good faith, but it should be done before contracts are signed by both sides, and if either side feels they need to be tweaked, they should be noted and brought up in the next round of negotiations.
I think anyone who signs school participation documents which state rules and/or expectations of said group or team, and students, players or participants, and/or their parents are asked to sign, they should read before signing, and if they do sign and rules or expectations are violated and consequences for such violations were spelled out in the agreements that had to be signed, there should be no negotiations, requests for reductions in consequences, or phone calls to school district personnel, board members, or anyone. The signer(s) must be accountable for the consequences which may be imposed to the violator of whatever rule or consequence was violated, and must be especially held accountable for signing the contract or document given before the experience began.
Too many conversations begin with "Yes, I signed it, but I didn't know it meant that," or "Yes, that's my signature but I didn't agree with the statement in the first place, but signed it anyway," or "I deserve more than I originally signed for, even though I agreed to it for three years and it's only been two," and then follow up all these openings with "let's talk." What's to talk about? If you sign a document, contract, agreement, lease or any contract-type paper, the signers must follow what they signed. How can that not be a given? How's that not understandable? How's that not "open and shut?" What's not to get?
Accountability seems to be just a word that comes between "account" and "accountant" in the dictionary. It's a word whose meaning has been crumpled up, thrown down, trampled on, yet many agree that all need to be accountable. The problem lies with the selectivity with which some don't feel that they fall into the "those who need to be accountable" group.
Experiences in my life have presented me and many colleauges with situations where we've had to abide by expectations imposed on us, and in positions where we've had to impose expectations on others. In many of those situations, the expectations were established keeping the group in mind, though I realized we were dealing with individuals and there were times when individual special circumstances arose and needed to be considered, but there couldn't be separate sets of expectations for each individual. We used forms asking participants and parents to read and sign that they understood the expectations and consequences. We never asked anyone to agree with them, just that they read and understood that these were part of the policy we'd be following. They were signed, but often the expectations or consequences were questioned when it affected certain individuals. The participant and/or parent suddenly developed "tunnel vision," only thinking of themselves and their child, while we had to keep the good of the group in mind. It was and is the nature of the beast, we know, but it doesn't make it easier or right.
In all situations addressed in today's column, reading documents before signing, then living up to the signature on the dotted line might go a long way toward the restoration of accountability and its meaning.