A Handshake Is Still the Best Agreement – But, a Signed One Stands a Better Chance in Court

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Once upon a time, the handshake was a celebrated moment in an agreement where two or more people joined together to pursue a goal for individual and mutual benefit. Not only did this gesture memorialize a unified front between the parties, but also the event signified the volunteered promise of honor and integrity that the value of a word and the physical exclamation point at the end of the sentence suggested.

This simple act galvanized an agreement that was greater than anything in this world. It meant that the full faith and trust of the parties were bound by the singularly most important possession one held: the honor of personal namesake and the engaged the word, honor, and trust that was expressed, implied, and promised. Such a simple activity sealed a party’s word to his forthcoming actions and those actions would be trustworthy. It did not need to be proven or backed by paper that showed that the person – in fact – agreed and promised. The person’s name was the guarantee and once upon a time, that meant something to people.

That was long ago. (That is not to say that the folks of yesteryear never broke their word and this code of honor.) All throughout time, you will find instances where men and women went back on a promise and proceeded to allow their end of the agreement to go unfulfilled. It did happen and it would be blasphemy to say otherwise. However, there was a day and a time where personal honor, integrity, and namesake were the hallmark of one’s name and his (her) family’s reputation. Some were so bound to the code of this conduct that they would rather die with this honor intact than live with the embarrassment of shame. Given the choice, I would rather deal with someone whose personal name was of such importance versus someone whose lack of concern for his or her personal reputation and others’ feelings matters little or perhaps, not at all.

The advent of Facebook, reality television, continuously eroding personal value systems, and the promotion of bad behaviors as “entertainment” through popular streams of media and the like has softened our concern for others and prompted increased self- promotion and all that serves this type of ego. These reality show behaviors have now become commonplace behaviors practiced by “everyday people.” Such conduct suggests a lowered bar of ethical conduct, personal accountability and responsibility, and an acceptance of moral turpitude. Some people’s act of turpitude falls under the heading of, “It’s just business,” and “… it was nothing personal.” Often these statements are offered as empty, morally bankrupt reasons to formulate an argument for bad behavior; flimsy arguments that weakly justify a reason to do what was (or is) good for the perpetrator while disregarding how these decisions will affect others.

Contrarily, there are instances when “good business” and “good decisions” must be separated from friendships and people in order to make the best decisions, founded upon the bedrock of reasonability, logic, and sound assessment. However, it is the gross disingenuous concern for others – when disguised in empathy – that smells like hydrogen sulfide and stinks to the heavens.

Disingenuous people live among us in rampant numbers. I am not saying that you should trust no one or that people are generally untrustworthy. However, you should always be prepared to face the fact that not everyone to whom you will engage yourself will act with honor when faced with dire outcomes, especially when the agreement concerns money. That is why we must have written agreements with properly vetted people and cross our fingers. Be prepared; no matter how well vetted, no matter how well written, no matter how well you know – or you think you know – someone, do not be surprised if you come up short in your appraisal and that person compromises your relationship for money.

Allow me to enunciate my point; Circa, 2006.

I was finally motivated to buy my first piece of property and was nearly engaged to purchase a condo. With this in mind, my brother decided to approach me with an opportunity to buy a home with him. His question was neatly wrapped in his direct intention to move out of our parents’ house to which he was still married after some 30 years. The question was grossly misplaced since I was not especially close to my sibling because of my very different attitude, personality, goals, objectives, life experience, outlook, and disposition. Despite the gap in our adolescent relationship, I was willing to sit down, listen and digest this proposal

We met at my local Starbucks not far from my Sports Medicine office. I sat down with a modicum of hesitation but an open mind. The conversation started with an unusual tone between two people who were raised in the same home but whose relationship did not breach the barrier of acquaintances. I listened to the familiar sales tact used to persuade an emotionally impulsive shopper who is looking to buy a new car. I cocked my head and listened as this smooth presentation continued to unfold. At last, the crescendo had been reached and the purpose of this meeting began to take form. My brother was asking me to do was an “about face” from my condo purchase in order to pursue this home purchase with him. I remarked that I had already made a purchase offer through my agent, saying that the deal was already beginning to take shape. He continued to architect his presentation, discussing the many benefits to purchasing a house and sharing in the home’s expenses.

I arranged the many offered facts into various categories from the sublime to the absurd with respect to the house’s value, the work required to update it, and the modest, upscale neighborhood that this ponderosa called its home. The better part of his arguments supported the proposition that a home has a better resale value, two people could purchase more real estate, and that the house was uniquely positioned as a sound investment in a modest neighborhood. As I digested these ideas, I looked into the face of this salesman who called himself my brother, to an end seemingly limited to only a last name and the coincidence to having been born to the same parental units.

We were raised in two very different homes, though one in the same. He was raised in a home that nurtured the fact that he was the youngest and I in a home that punished my self-motivated commitment to independence, entertainment, exploration, and travels with many friends from all walks of life. My home was one of abuse and his one of understanding. His, one of accommodation, mine ruled by personal struggle and constant filibuster. These environments bred different people and I for one, was starkly different from this person with whom I shared a bedroom for 18 years of my life.

Nearly a man of thirty-four years, I had amassed ten years of business experience and already been entangled with people who were less than honorable. I was grossly familiar with men from all walks of life whose affinity for moral turpitude and selfish greed for money and personal power ruled their decisions. For my part, I too was motivated by money and power but to the end that I could use those tools to help the many people who were seeking out my knowledge, skills, and abilities in the exercise sciences. Though I had grown up with this person and was of the same gene pool, I was still inclined to ask questions that were touchy in nature but necessary in scope as a result of my ten years of less than spectacular experiences with many different men.

After listening to a gross preponderance of the smooth sales pitch and all of the positive aspects of this deal’s makings, I asked the most obvious of questions, “I am willing to entertain this and give you full disclosure of my financials. What is your financial situation? Do you have savings? What kind of money are you making these days?” I volunteered a litany of questions that any shrewd business folk should ask and I felt absolutely comfortable in providing and receiving these disclosures. His answer was simple in that, “… he had the money. It wasn’t a problem.” “OK,” I responded, “… but what is your income? Your savings? What do you owe?” I asked. “I have the money… and my credit is good,” he responded, with all the skill of a polished politician.

I cannot dismiss my role in the events. I seemed to dismiss all things logical because this was, of course, my brother. I was giving him the benefit of the doubt. The logical course of action would have been to arrest the forward motions of the deal until considerable diligence of his financial solvency had been evaluated in order to reduce the risk to my own personal position. I pardoned this process in favor of my kinship and dismissed such research. A decision based in emotional content and void of logical process.

Fast forward: the purchase sealed and the home acquired. It was then I placed before my kin, an after-the-fact “gentlemen’s agreement.” “What is this?” he asked. “An agreement to govern the home’s operation,” I responded. “It just covers paying the bills, selling, attending to the home’s financial requirements… things like that.” “Why all the legal jargon?” he continued. “Legal jargon? What do you mean?” I asked. “Is the word ‘aforementioned’ considered strict, legal terminology?” I responded somewhat in jest but more in amazement. “It’s the way I speak and write,” I responded. “It’s just an agreement that dictates how to operate the home and keeps us both honest.” It was the beginning of what would become a widening guff of accountability and actions on his part, and the continued emersion of his true character. The label of kin no more guarantees a deal than a handshake sealed with blood.

As the months went by, the house financials became more and more about my efforts to loan money to its continued operation than the partnership called for. I was waiting nearly two weeks for my brother to contribute his full financial commitment to the home’s operations. In order to pay the mortgage, electric, gas, oil, and other bills on time, I was required to float and delay certain bills while I waited for my brother to contribute his half until midway through the month. This behavior contributed to eroding relationship that was clearly formulated on lies and deceit. It seemed that my brother either lied about his financial earnings, his financial savings, or both. The logic was simple. Either he had the money and was making me wait two weeks before contributing 100% of this commitment. Or, he did not have the savings or the income to support this venture, depending more upon me to contribute all of my financial commitment on time in order to subsidize the home’s operations.

Of course, the story never ends happily. As much as I pleaded for my brother to adhere to our mutually agreed upon oral agreements, he never did. He never did sign that “after-the-fact gentlemen’s agreement.” I suppose I should have known that someone who did not want to ink his name in accordance with honorable conduct, was going to exact less than honorable behavior. Despite my efforts to engage my parents’ support and mediation of the eroding partnership, resolve was never achieved. My brother never accounted for his actions and behaviors and he effectively turned my parents against me when I finally decided to act in order to unchain myself from being trapped in a unilaterally beneficial business deal, not to my position but rather to his position.

After many efforts to resolve the unfulfilled financial commitments by my brother and carefully trying to prevent negative blowback, I eventually decided it was time to disband the partnership. I tried every resolution at my disposal. I first tried to refinance the home and restructure the mortgage, both failing with my brother’s undermining activities. I waited for him to pursue what he called a mortgage modification. After many months of rhetoric and unpersuasive arguments, I decided that the only way we could break up the agreement was to sell the home. Again, he prevented the real estate broker from showing the home and became a nuisance to the sales process. Eventually, the home was taken off the market and I asked to be financially removed by way of a new mortgage. But, as should be obvious by now, it would not seem that he possessed the abilities to attain a mortgage for the home on his own.

Contemporaneous with this process was a deepening personal relationship with my now wife. After much ado with the failing real estate relationship and in order to pursue this personal relationship, I proclaimed that I would physically separate from the home and gave 6 months notice of such. However, it is never enough notice when a parasite is feeding on its host, irrespective of the host’s demising health and lack of ability to support both symbiote and self. As you can imagine, the more I tried to pull away, the worse of a person I was painted to be. It is perplexing to me how the person who attempts to do the right thing ends up becoming a villain brandished with a reputation as someone who intended to impart the harm.

The irony is so ridiculous it is borderline absurd! The accuser’s creative workings of the hypocritical mind – insulted by the perceived lack of honorable conduct is sound – but, swaps roles between perpetrator and victim. The smooth, inner-workings of the diabolical mind lacks the ability to recognize how history actually unfolded and is rewritten by the version of the events which best allow the actual perpetrator to sleep at night. It would be almost humorous to entertain such comedy if it was not actually true. However, the sad fact of the matter is that it is all true and the true victim is branded as the bandit. Again, the skilled sale of a slick con artist never fails. The only justice to be realized is that each one of us knows what the truth is, whether or not we accept that truth is the crux of the argument.

And so, it just stands to reason that a signed agreement keeps those who would intend to do the wrong thing somewhat corralled. From personal experience, I can say that even a signed agreement does not guarantee positive outcomes. Those who lack honor can never be bound to any agreement and will always find a way to subvert their role and responsibility. These people are unique shape-shifters when it comes to who and what they really are: empty, hollow, unhappy people who never consider how their actions affect others and are more concerned about how they can stand to personally benefit through others, rewriting history when history is busy arguing for truth.

Your happiness is so important! Deter unwanted aggravation and always execute a sound agreement that promotes bipartisan cooperation! If you can help it, never get yourself involved in a deal with a person who has a bad relationship with the truth or whose stories seem sketchy. However, if you absolutely must move forward, a sound agreement promotes truth(s) and establishes a guideline to honorable terms. We never can be guaranteed of one’s conduct. At a minimum, it underscores that you – if in fact, you value the weight of your signature’s meaning – are bound to a purpose and will execute what you promise by the binding of your name, signature, and trust and will limit the damage the other party can do.


• Get a good agreement! It keeps all parties in check and forces people to live up to a code of honor or operate within established parameters.

• Be true to your word. Very few people in this world can be taken at their word. Some of us can shake your hand and follow through to the letter because personal honor still means something. For the rest of the people in this world, make them sign on the line. They will have to stand before someone and lie again if that is their destiny!

• Value the weight and gravity of whatever you agree to do, whether on paper or not. A handshake should still mean something, even though to the vast majority of people, it no longer has merit or value.

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