The good thing: Should you be a lender or a borrower? | Nation


In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Polonius advises his son, Laertes, who is about to leave Denmark for France: “Neither borrower nor lender be. I’m not convinced his advice was meant to be foolproof, but it occurred to me recently after hearing from a reader we call Val.

Val wrote that a recent exchange with a former classmate left him unsettled. About ten years ago, when Val was a graduate student with few resources, his former classmate offered to give him the textbooks he had used for a course Val had taken afterwards.

“That was generous of him,” Val wrote. But a few weeks ago, Val was surprised to receive an email from the old friend asking if he could return the books he lent Val. Val was upset by the request, because it was never clear that the books had been loaned out, and because so many years had passed since the transaction. To further complicate the claim, Val no longer had the books. He had passed them on to another student who needed them.

“Doesn’t that seem wrong to you? Val wrote.

Val’s story reminds me of a story my parents told me about how angry they were after a friend who lent my dad a suit for a job interview when he was just starting out contacted them about years later to request the return of the costume. “Rather nervous,” my father had said. The return request created a rift between my father and his friend that never fully healed and that he was still talking about decades after the incident. He couldn’t return the costume either, since he had long since parted with it after several moves during his career.

When I was a kid, I always thought it was kind of a big deal for my dad to let a disagreement over a borrowed costume upset a friendship. But then he too was never clear that the costume was a loan rather than a gift to help out a friend.

The confusion between a loan and a gift touches on the issue in the stories of Val and my father. Everyone misinterpreted a kindness as something other than what it was. There was no malice involved; it was just a misunderstanding.

I firmly believe that it is acceptable to be both a borrower and a lender. Lending something to a friend in need can be a great kindness. But the right thing to do when giving a loan is for the lender to make it as clear as possible at the start of the transaction that they want whatever is loaned back when the borrower no longer needs it. of the item. .

The right thing for Val to do is tell her friend that he misunderstood the book swap doing the favor for another student in need. Her friend may be upset, but Val needs to be honest and let her friend decide how to react. I hope they won’t let this misunderstanding get in the way of their friendship.

I wish my father had done the same. In the interest of following Polonius’ other well-known phrase in “Hamlet,” that “brevity is the soul of wit,” I’ll just end here.


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