Does Anyone Owe Anybody Anything?
People say things like, “It takes a village” and “We’re stronger together.” But do they really mean it or is it just one of those things we say to make ourselves feel like better people?
My wealthy great aunt, God rest her soul, was known to repeatedly exclaim with the force of a domino slapping the table hard, “I don’t owe anybody a got-DAMN thang.” If she gifted you a five-dollar bill on your birthday, it was your duty to express glorious gratitude. After all, she didn’t have to give you anything at all.
See, I was created in a place and time where community was real. Family meant something in good times, as well as in bad. A lot of that stuck with me. My grandmother Mary, God rest her soul, was one of the most giving people I’ve ever seen in action. She didn’t have much, but she fed her family and the neighborhood. She kept her heart and door open to her family her entire life- no matter how old her children were. She didn't stop being a parent when her children turned 18. My grandmother Mary understood the impact the village could have on its members...and the generations. Knowing the difficulty of facing a storm alone, she refused to turn her back on those she loved. I miss her every day.
Yet, over the course of time and struggle, family obligations and community-feeling devolved into every man or woman for self. All over the internet there are memes like this:
(Now, keep in mind, I’m not talking about spoiled, ungrateful entitled children).
The meaning being: Get your ish together. Keep it together and if you ever need anything, don’t look my way for help. I got ya to 18. My job is done.
Here’s the problem with that way of thinking. If no one owes anyone, especially people over 30, then what happens to parents when they need help? If a parent, although way-grown, needs help, who owes them? Do their children owe them because they raised them? (Did you only have kids so you’d have someone to take care of you later?) Does society owe them? Who owes them a helping hand? And why?
When hard times hit, who should you turn to? After all, you’re grown. Your ducks should’ve been in a row by now. How’d they get out of a row?
Here’s the other issue. I’ve seen people receive more compassion from strangers than from people who actually know them. It’s weird. Why is it easier to lend a helping hand or care about a stranger? Why is it such an imposition to be kind to your own people?
Maybe there are some issues of judgment here. In my whole life, I have felt way more judgment coming from people who should love me than I ever have from strangers. I have experienced judging eyes glance over my life, especially from people who I would NEVER think to judge. (And I could if I wanted to. Believe me, there’s plenty of material).
Despite the every-man-for-himself rhetoric, I believe we definitely owe one another. I’m talking about reciprocity. We owe it to society to be decent people. If you fall down, I owe it to you to help you up, if I'm able. The last thing I should be doing is kicking you, rummaging through your pockets, or broadcasting to the world what a mess you've made of your life. The government, institutions, and companies owe us transparency. We expect coworkers, or anyone working alongside us, to diligently perform their duties. We expect neighbors to do the neighborly thing.
Loved ones owe us loyalty. We owe our family members and they owe us. We have a duty to do our level best to stay true to our word. While I may not owe you money, I owe you honesty. If I care for you, am I obligated to offer you wise counsel? If I see you heading down a dangerous path, should I warn you? If I see you struggling and feeling low, do I owe you understanding and compassion? Should I stop what I’m doing, take time out of my day to offer encouraging words? Do we only owe those who’ve done something for us first? “You reap what you sow” rings true to me. Do you want your share of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” I sure do.
We are all connected. It's a beautiful thought. A beautiful truth. How we live and move affects someone besides us, whether we care to admit that or not. So, yes, I believe we are owed certain rights in this life, whether we ever receive all of them or not.
Blessings and love,