Saturday, November 30, 2013

Force Majeure

Force Majeure is a legal term used as the title for a specific clause frequently found in contracts. The term is French. It means a superior or irresistible power. The clause is included because forces beyond the control of the two parties can affect the outcome of the contract.

Below is a sample of a Force Majeure clause that might appear in a particular contract. (Wikipedia)

Clause 19. Force Majeure

A party is not liable for failure to perform the party's obligations if such failure is as a result of Acts of God (including fire, flood, earthquake, storm, hurricane or other natural disaster), war, invasion, act of foreign enemies, hostilities (regardless of whether war is declared), civil war, rebellion, revolution, insurrection, military or usurped power or confiscation, terrorist activities, nationalisation, government sanction, blockage, embargo, labor dispute, strike, lockout or interruption or failure of electricity or telephone service. No party is entitled to terminate this Agreement under Clause 17 (Termination) in such circumstances.

I want you to notice that such events that are covered in the Force Majeure clause do not cancel the contract. They merely delay the completion of the contract.

Think of the money equation as a contract with yourself.

Money In = Money Stored + Money Spent,
(Integrated over the course of your lifetime)

The right hand side of the money equation is pretty easy to discuss. If you do the right things consistently over the course of your lifetime there is a very high probability of a good outcome. If you spend less than you earn, if you save the surplus, if you invest in a cautious systematic manner, you have a shot at becoming a prodigious accumulator of wealth no matter what your income. That number is a calculation based on your income and age.

The left hand side of the equation is where things get a little tricky. This is where you and nobody but you defines success. You write the contract with yourself. You make the decisions that result in the outcome we call life. If you choose a path with a low probability of a high income, you will have to live with the results of that decision. This may be easy for an artist with a nice garden living in an obscure corner of Hawaii. It is brutally hard on a football player who dedicated 15 years of his life to make it in the NFL only to be cut in his first training camp. Now what, a lifetime of selling cars in a college town, living on past glory?

Most of us never even make any serious effort to pursue our dreams. We look for a job that will provide a living. Sometimes just making a living is challenge enough. Some of us choose to make a conscious compromise with reality. We decide on an acceptable lifestyle. Then we find the least objectionable path that will provide us with whatever it is that we consider the good life. Jesus asked the question, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?” I am afraid that most of us in this materialistic consumer culture, have lost at least a part of our souls by focusing too hard on the left hand side of the equation.

Sometimes events happen that force us to invoke the Force Majeure clause in the contract we have made with ourselves. Years of diligent effort can disappear in a flash. Even when facing overwhelming circumstances, considering yourself a victim is useless, even if you are a victim. Taking responsibility for your life, no matter what the situation, at least gives you a chance. Life is not always fair. The innocent suffer unjustly at the hands of the wicked. Sometimes we are the victims of our own bad decisions. Sometimes we are simply the victims of the impersonal forces of the universe we mistakenly term Acts of God.

If nothing else, choosing a courageous response in the face of the difficulties we face in this valley of tears gives us an opportunity to live a life with dignity and integrity no matter what the cost.

There are a special kind of people who don’t invoke that clause when any reasonable person would allow them to suspend that contract.

I call them heroes.

If I knew what gave them their courage, I would put it in a bottle and sell it. I don’t know where it comes from, but I know it and respect it when I see it.

I knew a man who suffered complete kidney failure. Nothing I had ever heard about dialysis was good. In my ignorance I believed that either a dialysis patient received a kidney transplant or they would die pretty soon from renal failure. He proved me wrong.

With a consistent courage that I have seldom seen in this world, he just continued to work day after day, year after year to the best of his ability. If he wasn’t able to get to work, he worked at home. He never complained. He never asked for anything more than a chance to keep fighting. He never gave up. It is a humbling experience to meet a man with that kind of character. I am certain I would have gone out on disability after no more than a couple of months of dealing with something as horrific as dialysis.

I saw more in this man than personal integrity in business and heroism in facing a major life threatening tragedy. I also watched him deal with other men. As is true for all of us, life was not always fair to this man. Others take credit for our work. Other men do not always treat us fairly. No matter what the provocation he always took the high road. He always did the right thing when dealing with others even as he was fighting a personal battle I can’t even imagine.

For over ten years he fought the good fight. Finally he succumbed to forces beyond his control. Today he lives in an Eternal Hall of Fame, a fitting place for a hero who faced life with consistent courage and personal integrity; no matter what the challenge; no matter what the cost.

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