Sunday, September 29, 2013

Giving, With Boundaries, Not Strings

Times are tough. The problems with the economy touch most of us at one time or another, in one way or another. In today's economy, it's a rare family where someone doesn't have financial fears, or even needs. And if we're the one at the moment with "enough", we often want to help. Sometimes, even if we have to stretch to do it, we still want to help. Helping is good. But strings are not necessarily so good.

What are strings? Strings are saying "I will help you," and then later (whether stated explicitly or implied), "(I'm helping you, so now)"... "....I want you to do this for me, and this for me, and this for me." Or another one is, "I will you loan you money, but be sure you pay it right back." 

Strings often cause misunderstandings and hard feelings on both sides, and can sometimes put a strain on the peace of mind of both people involved. 

Boundaries, on the other hand, sound like they will cause conflict, and perhaps sometimes they do. Yet, they often prevent the strains that strings bring.  

What are boundaries? Setting boundaries might be saying, "I will help you. You say you need $100? I am able to give you $10."  (or $20 or $50, whatever you feel you are able to, or want to, give). You might think: "But he told me he needed $100"; however, maybe he just wanted to vent. Maybe another person will give him $10, too, and another; or maybe he will find some money under the mattress, or a way to borrow, or something to sell; and maybe soon he will have the $100, and be grateful to you that you wanted to contribute something.  

Setting a boundary might be saying, "I will loan you this money. Pay me back when you are able. I will really appreciate it. But no hurry."  And then, telling yourself that if you don't get the money back, you will just let it go. If you're not sure whether or not you can afford to loan someone money, ask yourself how you will feel if that person dies. Will you just be sorry that you lost this dear friend? Or will you be anxiously seeking out the nearest survivors to tell them they need to repay your loan? (There's those strings again.). Not only does this put a strain on relationships and on people's peace of mind, but unless you had a documented business contract, the law says you are out of luck. If you insist, you are at the mercy of someone else's generosity...someone who may now feel torn by shame if they don't give the money to you and, at the same time, hurt that you seem to care more about your money than about the person who passed away. In addition, the survivor, if they decide to give you the money you 'claim', is now faced with fitting you in along with funeral expenses and, if there is money to be had, perhaps a very long wait. So they may continue to think about you and your request, and be upset on account of your request, for a year or two, until the estate has been processed. Not that you want to think about death whenever someone asks you for money, but just know that these things do sometimes happen in real life. 

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from helping people in need! Nor am I saying you should give someone your last jacket, for "keeps". What we give, and how much we give, is very personal.  I have no comment on how much anyone should give to others. But when we do give, let's think about what our boundaries are. How much can we afford to give without resentment? If it's a loan, will we be okay if we don't get the money back?  If we are satisfied with our answers to our questions, then let's give, and give freely, without strings. 

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