I was on vacation recently and had the opportunity to visit Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, Washington.

Dale Chihuly has created stunning works of art in glass which are displayed in a gallery and also in an adjoining garden. There are no fences or barriers to prevent people from touching the glass and breaking it, but no one touches it. Visitors all clearly understand that this exhibit is to be enjoyed visually, and each abides by a social contract.

We have many social contracts. Maybe you play one of the many other daily puzzle games available online, such as Globle, Worldle or Heardle. Players of these games often post their results on social media, but we know that the social contract requires that we do NOT post the answers. Posting the answers would ruin everything for those who haven’t played that day.

In both of these examples, it is only our agreement with each other that allows continued enjoyment by others. But there are examples of situations where not everyone is living up to the social contract. Perhaps you have had the opportunity to visit a national park (if not, I highly recommend it). In order to continue to enjoy our national parks, we are asked to respect the rules that ensure the safety and integrity of the parks, people and wildlife.

No one is allowed to remove anything from a national park, not even a twig or a leaf. Yet every year we learn of cases in which people break these rules, endanger themselves or wildlife, or damage parks.

What is the price of respecting a social contract? This means that we are forced to think, not only of our individual pleasure, but of the well-being of everyone around us. We are challenged to control our impulses – touching glass, picking up pine cones in a national park, announcing the solution to a puzzle – so that others can continue to enjoy the same things we do.

What is the price of breaking the social contract? Well, for the time being, we might gain some degree of pleasure from touching things we shouldn’t, but in the long run, the price tends to be that we lose free and easy access to the things we love. The fences go up. Barriers designed for the lowest common denominator prevent anyone from having the same full participation.

This social contract can go beyond exhibits in a museum or park. We, as a social nation, have agreed to respect the election results in order to live in a democracy. Our elections are held and we have enjoyed the peaceful transfer of power because we accept this social contract.

What would be the price if we suddenly decided that we would no longer respect this?

We can get an idea of ​​what would happen by looking at what happened in other countries. Dictators refused to abide by election results or imprisoned political opponents and prevented them from appearing on ballots.

It doesn’t require everyone’s support. It only requires that a small group of people seize power and the majority do nothing to stop it.

Do we want to live in a society that values ​​all its members and respects a social contract? I do. That’s the price of having a society. Let’s keep our contract with each other.

Reverend Dr. Madelyn Campbell is the former minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley.