Loans and Gifts

I don't watch talk shows — Jerry Springer, Oprah Winfrey, etc. — but many years ago I happened across a most valuable piece of advice from a guest on the Phil Donahue show. That person said that he never loaned anyone anything with the expectation that it would be returned. If it was, great! But if it wasn't, he was never upset.

It's a very simple philosophy, but it really works. If the item is something I could not bear to be without, I simply don't loan it. Otherwise, I assume that the item or money I loan is really a gift that will never be returned or repaid and I'm never disappointed. I've loaned lots of books and cd's that are probably living right now where they are most needed. And I have loaned money that may not have been repaid. Since I didn't expect to get it back, I haven't kept track.

And there is a corollary to this, I think, in that many gifts should not try to be repaid. I have been the recipient of several extremely generous and un-asked-for gifts in my life — one was a gift of incredible knowledge from someone in my profession who just wanted to share it with me; the others, several large gifts of money and objects were given unexpectedly at the times I most needed them. When someone does that for you, unbidden, how can you possibly repay them? The first answer is that you probably can't. And the second answer is that your efforts will probably negate the joy that the giver received in giving the gift in the first place. The only way to truly repay a gift like that is to find opportunities to give similarly to others. There is unbelievable joy in giving the unexpected and un-asked-for. It doesn't have to be big or extravagant — it just has to be given without desire or expectation for repayment.