The Book of Good Living: Favors

The Book of Good Living: Favors November 4, 2014

begging rabbitI was in a position to witness a young woman asking people for a cigarette at a highway rest stop a few days back. “Could you give me a cigarette? No?? Oh, please, please, please! It’s just one cigarette, and I really NEED it. It’s just one lousy cigarette!”

She ended up crying (!), complaining tearfully about how rude people are nowadays. “I just don’t understand (sob) how people can be so RUDE. Anytime I have cigarettes and someone asks me for one, I (sob) give it to them. Some people are such dicks.”

It sparked some thoughts:

“Out of the goodness of your heart.” That’s where favors come from, isn’t it? A favor might spring from fellow-feeling, simple compassion, or just today’s positive outlook, but you do a favor for someone because you want to, with no expectation of reward. It might be because they asked for the favor, it might be just you doing something nice.

Except there IS a reward most of us expect – a heartfelt ‘thank you’ — delivered as words, a smile, or just a nod. The ‘thank you’ that says “I recognize and appreciate your unnecessary kindness.”

Say “thank you” when someone holds the door for you. Wave “thank you” when the driver next to you lets you into his lane of traffic. Say “thank you” when your friend invites you along on an outing.

Favors arrive on a social landscape that contains certain other expectations. If those expectations aren’t met, it destroys the landscape so favors are granted grudgingly if at all. And of course, a ‘favor’ granted grudgingly is not a favor, it’s something completely different, with no fellow-feeling, but rather more along the lines of fear, or duty. The person granting that sort of favor loses something in the granting of it, becoming, for that moment, more of a underling than a friend.

Regarding that social landscape …

Here are the favors the world owes you: None.

Your friend the musician doesn’t owe you free tickets to his concert. Your cousin who has a shoe store doesn’t owe you a special deal on shoes. Your rich aunt doesn’t owe you the gift of $500 to keep you from losing your car. Your twin brother doesn’t owe you a kidney to save your life.

Nobody owes you the loan of their phone, or a cigarette, or a sip of their soda, or a ride into town, or an invite over for supper, or … anything. Nothing. Nobody OWES you a favor. The idea of “favor” and “duty” are mutually exclusive. Again, if it’s a duty, something owed (or the repayment of something owed), it’s not a favor, it’s the performance of a duty.

So if you ask a favor and the person says no, that’s not rudeness, it’s just life. And if someone asks YOU a favor, you’re allowed to say no. For any reason, or no reason at all. You’re not even under any obligation to explain.

You may not want to do it at all. You may not want to do it right now. You may not want to do it for that particular person. You may be in a hurry and don’t even want to consider it. In all of which cases, and any others you can think of, you have the right to say no.

Too many of us don’t understand that. We think “I really NEED you to give me a ride, and it doesn’t cost you anything. Besides, you said yes before. If you say no now, that’s you being rude.”

No it isn’t. If you think that way, that’s YOU being rude. Nothing wrong with asking (usually), but if that other person says no, that’s it. If you push it, you’re being pushy – the precise state under which you shouldn’t get the favor.

Because the driver didn’t owe you the ride in the first place, you’ve lost nothing, and have no right to be put out. Also because he didn’t owe you the ride in the first place, he has no need to feel embarrassed. If you think anything else, you don’t understand the concept of favor, and you’re helping destroy the social landscape that makes them possible.

If you walk away and hold a grudge over the favor that failed to arrive according to your expectations, you not only don’t understand favors, you don’t understand friendship.

If the guy you ask can’t say no, there is no possibility that what comes after is a favor. It’s the act of a servant under threat of punishment.


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