What do You Owe Others?

What do You Owe Others?

What do you owe other people?

Well, it depends on who they are.

Generally, I’m of the opinion that you don’t owe anyone anything. “Owe” specifically indicates an obligation – something that you have to do, or it would be unfair and not okay for you to not-do. There are *very* few circumstances where I think you *must* do anything for anyone.

To your dependents – children, people who rely on your paycheck in order to live, animals, etc – you owe your time and effort to keep them alive, even if it’s just long enough to get them on their own feet.

To your family – I don’t mean blood family, I mean the people who have stuck with you through everything, and have helped you get where you are today – you owe an explanation of your actions or decisions that affect them.

To everyone else – seriously, even parents, coworkers, etc – you owe nothing.

That’s the short of it – you owe them nothing. There is nothing you are obligated to give them. Not your time, not your emotions, not your energy or your money. Not emotional support, not extra work. Nothing.

Now, here is where that gets a bit tricky. You don’t owe them anything, but good community members do things for each other in order to build connections. You don’t owe anyone a smile, but smiling at another person will make them feel warmly at you. You don’t owe anyone a portion of something you’ve earned, but sharing will spread joy or sustenance around. If you refuse to give anything to anyone, folks may label you antisocial or unkind, and choose not to be friends with you. That’s their right.

What each person needs to do is to walk a fine line. Fulfill your obligations to dependents and family, recognize that every other thing in your life belongs to you and you alone, and then choose how you want to share yourself in order to build a healthy community and get something back.

If you never give love, you’re unlikely to get it. If you never give affection, you are unlikely to get it. If you never provide emotional energy for your friends, they won’t want to share theirs with you.

But people who tell you “you owe me this!” are likely lying. Men who tell you to smile, coworkers who ask you to stay late and work extra hours, parents who demand your presence at holidays, partners who take your emotional energy… You don’t have to do it. You don’t owe them those thing.

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