You know those pieces of advice that just stick with you?
Four years ago, I moved into my very special apartment in this bright turquoise building we called the Treehouse. The only adjacent apartment that shared the building with us was (and still is) occupied by three hippie, musician, stoners who had already lived there for three years by the time I moved in. They are very loud, very warm, and pretty much everything you’d imagine hippie, musician, stoner boys living in Berkeley to be. Combined with my apartment of three women and the boys’ extremely large group of friends, we formed this lovely, big community where there was never a quiet moment.
The summer that I moved in, the boys had a rotating cast of hippie travelers who slept on their couch and occasionally in our backyard. They were a little haggard and a little dirty as you can imagine, but their hearts were so big. They sacrificed stability and material possessions for the freedom of being able to travel, hitchhiking up and down the West Coast. I was enchanted by their lifestyle that was so romantic, yet so far from what I knew.
The problem is when you have so little, you rely on others so much. My neighbors were gracious enough to open up their home sometimes for weeks, despite the fact that they themselves often struggled to make rent. And although I’m always down to hook a struggling veteran up with a few dollars, I’m less interested in financially supporting the 20-something hippies who choose to spend their time traveling. I work really hard for my money and, especially at the time, it’s not like I was making a lot. It’s cool if someone chooses to forsake a job for “freedom”, but I didn’t sign up to fund their adventure.
This came to a head when one of the hippie boys, let’s call him T, asked if he could borrow my nice DSLR camera. They had a big show and he wanted to take some pictures. Now, when I was 17 years old I worked for months and months in an indie bookstore to come up with the $1,000 to buy this camera. It was the biggest purchase I had ever made in my life, and although it was a bit old by this point, it was still important to me.
Many years ago my mom had given me a piece of advice – when a friend borrows something of yours, whether it’s a hundred dollars or a precious object, you need to accept then and there that you might not get it back. Because then if they don’t return it, you’re not going to be angry and hold it against them. If you know that you will not be able to forgive them, then don’t offer it to them in the first place. It’s just not worth ruining the friendship.
Now, I’ve lent a lot of people things over the years. From letting Reg borrow my car to loaning some close friends a grand when they needed to make rent, I really don’t feel like I’m a stingy friend. But here this homeless, completely broke kid who I wasn’t even very good friends with was asking to borrow one of my most expensive, prized possessions. T was going to a concert where it would be very easy for him to set it aside and have it get smashed or stolen. And because he had no money, there was not a chance in hell he would be capable of buying me another one, even if he wanted to.
So I told him no. And you know what, T was a total dick about it. He told me that if he had a camera and I wanted to borrow it, that he would let me. He also told me it was just stuff and stuff was replaceable – easy for him to say, he hadn’t worked for months to purchase it. Basically he completely gave me the third degree, but at that point I was so pissed off, I wasn’t even capable of being guilted.
You know what, when you ask someone a favor, you need to understand that they might say no and that’s their prerogative. After all, it’s a favor – “an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual.” They have no obligation to help you. And it doesn’t matter what the reason is for declining – they don’t owe you anything.
Have you ever loaned someone something precious or said no when they asked to borrow it? Did they return it, and if not, how did you react when they didn’t? What’s a great piece of advice someone has given you?