The grief of giving

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Don’t lend if you don’t want to lose

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016

I learned my lesson when I was young. I was old enough to know what was mine, but also had the teachings of generosity instilled in me. So, now and then, when someone expressed interest in something that I had, I would let them borrow it. Be it a book, a toy, a video, or a game, as long as they took care of it, I would lend it. The thing is, they wouldn’t take care of it. They would forget about it. I never issued a return date, so if I never asked, it would never be heard of again.

For a while, I thought such a lending process between friends and family is only flawed because my friends and family were irresponsible and inconsiderate. Turns out, the majority of the world is like this. And it makes sense. Since you yourself are not a library, you do not have the capacity to keep track of everything you’ve lent to people, or have any means of enforcing timely returns. Therefore, people do not fulfill their end of the deal.

I learned this when I was young, and today, I am hesitant to let anybody “borrow” anything that I wouldn’t instinctively give as a gift.

The lending between friends and family model is made more complicated in adulthood. Rather than borrowing toys, games, or other tangible crap, they are borrowing money. Which is fine, there is nothing better than treating your friends to a dinner or paying for their ticket to the movie—if it is a gift. However, when the exchange is referred to as “borrow” or “lending” it makes the lender wonder if they will see that money ever again.

What’s a few bucks between friends, right? I agree. I would never let $100—or even $200— ruin my friendships. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be in dire need and would like to “borrow” a couple hundred bucks from them to sustain my extravagant lifestyle. For now, I’ll just treat is as a gift. Enjoy.

Nevertheless, if that’s how the wheels are turning, every once in awhile, I’d expect it to roll the other way. You pay this time; I’ll pay the next. Unless you are my Turtle from Entourage, I am not going to pay for everything you do. After all, you haven’t returned what you have borrowed.

We can bitch and moan about people not paying us back or having a ridiculous friendship-debt, but I believe the onus always fall on the lender. If a bank keeps lending money to degenerates, it wouldn’t be cool; it would be an unsuccessful bank. So I say this: whatever you are paying for people, whatever you are lending to people, whatever extra step or measure you take for someone else, make sure it is either respected as a debt that must be paid, or as a gift that can be received gratefully.

If you don’t want to lose something, don’t give it away. You are not the bank. You are not the store. You are not the library. You are a person. If it’s not a gift, don’t treat it as such.

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