Throughout human history, the ability to trust others and believe in their commitments has always been an important part of social interaction. In fact, it is a fundamental principle that is crucial not only to friendships, but to a well ordered society as a whole. Duels were once fought over matters of honor and personal integrity, so powerful were these concepts.
To a great degree, much of this has fallen by the wayside in modern times, replaced by cleverly worded documents and those who wield them. A promise is no longer a matter of intent, a law unto itself among people who value the spirit more than the letter. Instead, agreements are defined in very narrow terms based on the exact language of what is said. What is left unspoken simply doesn't count.
Loopholes, those technicalities which allow us to evade our obligations, are now an everyday part of our collective consciousness. In short, we have come to place a higher value on cleverness than ethics. By its very nature, the search for a loophole is an exercise in evasion. More often than not, such a quest is driven by the desire to gain an advantage or benefit regardless of how it affects the other party. Those who point out that, technicalities aside, it's simply not the right thing to do are frequently laughed out of the room.
The vast majority of people will not buck the trends of current behavior, for in doing so they would risk becoming ostracized from normal social circles. Those brave souls who disregard the risk and stand up for what they believe is right will often be derided or shouted down. Since isolation is rarely a comfortable experience, it's little wonder that few people are willing to make an issue of ethical considerations when it goes against what's become the accepted norms of their environment.
Consequently, as time passes and our culture gets more complex, we become less dependant upon personal integrity and more focused on what can be proved in black and white. This is not a matter that is confined to lawyers and legal documents. Rather, it has trickled down from the large corporate structures that we depend on for products and services. We often tend to deal with people the way others have dealt with us, and through this blurring of lines, cleverness at the expense of integrity has infiltrated our way of life.
As a result, the ability to believe in another person's word becomes a casualty. Without trust and integrity, our bonds and alliances fall to dust, leaving nothing but chaos, suspicion and conflict where mutually beneficial relationships once stood.
However, just as a trend appears, so can it be reversed. If you'd like to live in a world where you can count on people to stand by what they say and honor their commitments, all it takes is peer pressure, which is surprisingly easy to generate.
Rather than criticizing others for their poor ethical behavior, get out of bed each day and live your life as though you were the national spokesperson for the values you cherish, and conduct yourself as though you were being watched by millions on TV. In all of your interactions with people demonstrate through your actions that, at least with you, your word and a handshake are the strongest and most binding contract that a person could ever hope for.
When people are treated well, it gets their attention and respect. When others in the crowd see the high regard in which you're held because of your integrity, it will become something that they'll want for themselves. Thus, they will emulate your behavior. Before long it will become, at least in your circle of friends, the accepted norm, bolstered by the powerful forces of peer pressure. In doing so, you'll raise to new heights that time honored symbol of trust and dependability - the handshake.