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Everyday Ethics

Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

Polonius, Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 75-77

Good advice from one of Shakespeare’s flightier characters.
This weekend a good friend and I were road-tripping in upstate New York, and she shared a story with me about another friend with whom she was having an issue. Over the summer, she said, this friend had made a promise to her that, if she visited her, she’d help pay her airfare for the trip. Well, my friend made the trip, and, suffice it to say, afterward the “help” was not forthcoming.
For a variety of reasons, my friend wasn’t comfortable directly confronting her friend with a request that she honor her promise. But she wouldn’t have made that trip had it not been under that understanding that it’d be partly subsidized – she’s on a very tight budget, as so many of us are. And, in the past, she’d helped her friend out in similar ways, so it would have been tit for tat, not a handout. Now she’s left feeling sore at her friend, and short on cash. Not a great place to be.
Such incidents are hardly unique. And they don’t just happen among friends. Family feuds over money are the stuff of cliche and sit-com for a reason. But I think when money comes between friends it’s a particular ethical dilemma. I know when it’s me, I have to strike a balance between my own interests and the desire to keep my friend happy; the need to please and the need to feel I’ve been treated fairly.
In my own experience, resentments like these can fester; the only solution that works for me is to be very clear up front. If accepting a favor of any kind, have a plan for paying it back, if not in kind then in some other fashion that seems equitable. If lending something out, I try to make it something I won’t mind losing if it never comes back to me. And if I am giving something to a friend in exchange for a service like a car tune-up or a paint-job on my house, (never a great idea if I can avoid it), I remind myself up front that however they end up delivering that service, I’ve paid for it like any other. The money is just money, and it’s better to let go of that than someone dear to me.
Have you ever lost a friendship because of money? Tell us your experience in the comments field below.

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