On friday we discussed, "Do Friendship and Money Mix?"
To start off the discussion we used the following situation: A friend drives you to Taoyuan Airport from Taipei. Is it cool or not cool to pay her or him 500NT for helping you out?
Reasons for paying 500 to a friend to take you to the airport:
Because you're not taking the friend for granted (they're not being used by you)
You may not have another chance to repay them. So giving it to them now is a good idea.
Because you've paid the friend, you keep this favor in mind.
Not feel guilty. Because you're causing them trouble to take you there.
Simplest way to pay them back.
Reasons against paying 500 to friend to take you to the airport:
This behavior will debase the friendship because we are good friends, we don't need to talk about money when helping each other.
Your friend will feel embarrassed to take the money because it puts a price on the help they give you.
We often pay money to buy something or some product or services, so it's like like you are superior to your friend, you hire them to do something for you. It creates a power imbalance. Some people will feel angry about that.
The friendship would become an obligation. I could just pay someone, and not care about their feelings, but as your friend, I care about your feelings. So paying you means I stop needing to care about your feelings.
I think sometimes it's a duty for a very good friend to do this.
And you're taking away their opportunity?
Okay, for me it's because if they don't owe you, there's no basis for friendship, because friendship is about helping each other.
It's like the money substitutes for feelings. If the money is there, the feelings are not.
But why do they have feelings for you?
Because they're you're friend.
But if you have some connection with that person, you will care about anything about that.
I just want to ask, if you don't care about this person, you never help them. Is that true?
Yes! Of course! I'm helping you because I want to.
So if you make a friend with a taxi driver, if he takes you to the airport, do you need to pay them?
No, I think.
But I agree with him, we always--
But but but, for example, I’m an employee in a bank, suppose that my job is to exchange foreign currency for you guys, and my company pay me some money, but today when you come here and ask me to help exchange currency, I will--
Business is business!
I will help you and not charge anything, because you're my friend.
But your services are being paid for already, you're on salary.
So we're just taking advantage of you?
That's the point.
If you have a friend who's a photographer, and you ask them to take pictures for free, aren’t you taking advantage of them? Lots of photographers and artists have this pet peeve.
But sometimes we will do that photography or pictures for our friends, but for some of our friends, we won't do that, right?
Why not, what's the difference?
Maybe these some friends, you want to do something for them because they will do something for you later, or say thank you, or otherwise not take it for granted.
Human relationships can not be valued by money. It's hard to value them.
But you pay a taxi driver.
Because we have no relationship. We only have an economic relationship.
That's the point, this is an important point.
But here's my last reason not to. If you only pay them 500, they'll think you're fucking cheap because everyone knows you need 900 for a taxi.
But it's like a principle, all or none. If you want to pay him or her, you must pay the going rate, or you shouldn't pay them.
What if your friend runs a business, and always gives you a discount? How does that relate to this?
So you feel that you owe him or her?
Yeah, I feel like I have to drum up business for her then.
So if she charged you the going rate, you will feel better and become the normal customer?
Actually, I would feel sad, because there’s no sign that I’m her friend.
If we call something a friendship, it's because we have some benefit from them.
But what it is, is a token of friendship that takes financial forms. We're friends first, and then we have these tokens.
But does that make you business friends?
I think that's like a different level.
Okay, so lets look at this quote: "On one level the difference between an obligation and a debt is simple and obvious. A debt is the obligation to pay a certain sum of money. As a result, a debt, unlike any other form of obligation, can be precisely quantified. This allows debts to become simple, cold and impersonal--which, in turn allows them to be transferable.*
Cold and impersonal is not the language of friendship. A debt is beyond the signification of friendship.
" If one owes a favor, or one's life, to another human being, it is owed to that person specifically. But if one owes forty thousand dollars at 12-percent interest, it doesn't really matter who the creditor is: neither does either of the two parties have to think much about what the other party needs, wants, is capable of doing--as they certainly would if what was owed was a favor, or respect, or gratitude. One does not need to calculate the human effects; one need only calculate principal, balances, penalties, and rates of interest. If you end up having to abandon your home and wander in other provinces, if your daughter ends up in a mining camp working as a prostitute, well, that's unfortunate, but incidental to the creditor. Money is money, and a deal's a deal."
So when you ask your friend to pay 500 to take you to the airport, you turn the obligation into debt, right?
Really? But, in your definition of friendship, one application is taking you to the airport.
I'm talking by his definition.
But if your friend doesn't think that taking you to the airport is part of the obligation?
Then you wouldn't ask that friend, you'd ask one who wanted to/could.
My question is, does paying money really release you from the obligation of knowing that someone had to send their daughter to work as a prostitute?
I'm reminded, in Taiwanese culture, we have to give our parents money every month. If we don't give them money, and just ask them how they are, you're not a good child. So why, in our culture do we need to use money to do our responsibility to our parents?
That's a question I have actually. Because western culture says your financial relationships are separate from your family. Not completely, obviously, because marriage is an institution about financial support of wife and children. There's no obligation for children to give money to parents. Also no obligation of parents to children once they're 18.
Do you agree or disagree with this statement: "Surely one has to pay one's debts!"
Not true: 1
So if I’m the bank--
You don't want to lend to me or Henry?
No no no, for some reason, banks will want to lend to Henry or Angela, because they will earn more interest.
But if I’m not paying, they're not making money!
But actually the bank will investigate credit of people, so if Henry, for instance, didn't want to pay the debt, the bank will know--
But in a certain period, the bank can sell his debt to earn money!
But when the market collapses?
The bank gets bailed out by the government!
The bank can't earn any money from me and Acheson, because we always pay back.
Wait, tho, there's a saying in the US, listen to this:
If you owe the bank a hundred thousand dollars, the bank owns you.
If you owe the bank a hundred million dollars, you own the bank.
You know, I get this, but I don't get this.
Just like a lot of huge companies, they have so much money in Taiwan, those banks can just follow those companies direction.
Or they don't want to pay back the money, they still need to lend those companies money.
My heart doesn't get it. My head does, just not my heart.
The point is, why do they need to borrow that much money? Why do I keep giving it to you?
Because if you don't give them, then they will bankrupt.
It's an accounting problem.
It's a snowballing problem.
Why do you have to pay your debts?
I don't want to owe anyone!
If I don't pay it back, I will have more trouble.
I don't want to owe anyone.
Why does it 'depend'?
Like I said, maybe I could sell my debt to someone who could pay for me. Or I could continue to borrow money to make a big deal. I don't need to give the money right now.
Wait, I have a question. In business, why do people always want to pay their suppliers 2 months later? 2 months after the goods are already in the store and sold.
If they pay you 100 dollars now, they lose 100 dollars in the their account, and they can't do anything. But if they delay to 2 months later, in these two months, they can lend this money to someone else, and earn the money, and use others money to pay you back two months later.
Okay, I get it. People are complicated.
So like a huge big company, Hong hai, to be honest, some small companies dislike them, because they always delay payment.
And it's really hard for the supplier because usually they're a small company working with really small margins.
What's the difference between a debt and an obligation to a friend?
I think debt is based on money, but obligation is based on friendship. So I think sometimes we should separate money-friendship and friendship-friendship. For example, when a boyfriend and girlfriend separate, they usually regret about giving money to their girlfriend or boyfriend before.
Because they think the money they pay is not worth it, because they have already separated.
So because the relationship is gone the money is a loss.
The relationship is broken.
You know, I had a Korean-American friend, and she was part of a really tight Korean-American group. She broke up with her K-A boyfriend. A few months later she started dating a white man, and it was THEN that the K-A boyfriend demanded all the gifts he'd ever given her back. I thought this was super messed up, because actually SHE had given him even more gifts during their relationship.
I have a question, if we think a relationship is separate from financial, why should they need to ask back those gifts?
Well, they were Korean, I think it was about a loss of face.
By getting the money back, he cut ties with her, thereby her questionable ties, her questionable choice of her next partner, wouldn't reflect on him anymore, so he saved face.
So, when we ask for money from a person, that means we don't want to have a relationship with this person. Just like you said, he asked back the money, that means she's nothing to him.
So the point is, should relationships involve money? Inside the relationship? For example the relationship between a couple or friends, if they get involved with money, if they buy a lot of stuff for each other, or they buy a house for each other, if the status changes, how can they deal with the money stuff?
That's why divorces get so vicious, right?
Also when friends break up.
Friendships are harder to quantify than marriages. Because marriage is an economic relationship. I mean, there's a relationship there too, but the marriage part is economic.
So friendship is more pure than marriage.
It's like last week we talked would you lend money to friends? Some people won't, but in a marriage they would?
Like last week, would you borrow 1 million NT to lend to a friend?
No! Why would I put both of us into trouble or risk?
If there's a contract involved.
Then it's not really about friendship anymore.
I also agree with you.
And if I did that, I would not be happy! And our friendship would become strange and not so natural.
Not so pure.
But most people would lend to a soul mate.
Soooo, would you borrow 1 million to lend to a partner?
If you ask some people, they would
Yeah, there's a lot of stories like this.
Also people for their parents, or relatives.
But my parents told me that I should not lend money to them.
Another example. Some parents get very seriously sick, and they need money to cure it. Would you borrow money for them?
From the bank or from friends?
This is a huge problem for Americans.
But they don't give them money per month.
Yeah, but can you let your father lay in the hospital without paying his bills? Maybe we don't give money one way, but another.
Actually, I have a question, what's the difference between a taking-advantage friendship or a real friendship?
What's the difference between using someone and real friendship?
Like the photographer, for example. He takes photos for you because you're friends, so it's okay to ask him.
What do you mean by real friendship?
Because it's difficult, you don't know if they want to make friends, or they want a benefit from the friendship, it's difficult to tell.
But why should we need to tell the difference?
Because you don't know if someone just wants to use you, or really makes friends with you.
Even if Maggie made friends with me, and she just wants something from me, so what?
But expectations are different. Maybe if you want her to help you, she'll say no.
It's not a two-way street.
Dead end! No outlet!
For me it's simple, if you're trying to take advantage of me, you're not a friend.
But I think taking advantage is not so bad. I can take advantage of you a lot, and I can help you also help you much. That relationship is also good.
That's close to friendship. There's a balance.
How is that not a business relationship? What makes it a friendship rather than a business relationship?
For me, the thing would be even if you cannot earn any profit on this person, you would choose to be his or her friend.
That's my basic definition of a friend!
So if you can earn a profit on a person, they're not a friend?
No it's like, sometimes you make friends with a rich person, but when they fall and become poor, you stay away, this kind is not the real friendship.
Okay, they fail, and try to borrow money from you.
Okay, I will lend to them, and try to help them survive.
But you wouldn't borrow money to lend to them.
I'd lend what I could to them.
You said last week you'd let them live at your house even!
Would *you*? Lend that hypothetical rich-to-poor person money? Would you borrow to lend to them?
I would hold a charity party for them.
You would give them other people's money!
I still believe we need to pay the money to our friends when they help us, because this is a simple way, and also lets our friends feel we don't take advantage of our friendship, or we don't take them for granted. Because I think this is a simple way that someone can provide their offer for us, do something for us, they get something back, and money is a simple and direct way to solve this problem. Also this reminds me of a question. Why do we have to buy a birthday gift for our friends, why not just give them the money? Because I thin the birthday gift is just one commercial way, which maybe was invented by a company, they want me to buy a gift for a friend to show our friendship, but I think giving the money is enough to prove our friendship.
But in the US giving money as a gift is totally rude!!
But gift cards!!!
Some people think these are rude, putting a number on a gift is crass.
In a wedding party, someone will write down how much you give--
Because we attend the wedding party, we give the red envelope, actually that's money, not a gift. So it’s okay in Taiwan.
But birthday gifts, no? Why not?
We give our mother money on mother's day. Because my mother said money is better than anything else.
So why not when we have a friend? What's the difference?
Is giving a birthday gift something that came with western culture? Were birthdays a thing before Taiwan westernized?
In our ancient period, we never heard of birthday gifts.
Everyone got older at the end of Chinese New Year, right?
Yeah, we get money, not gifts.
So I think it's a western import.
And westerners think of money as dirty, not clean or pure, so that's why gifts. We think that giving money is putting a dollar amount on the relationship, and that's not cool.
It's like diamonds, the diamond companies made diamond engagement rings a thing.
I think we have the birthday gift custom in our ancient period. The king.
You gave them to the king?
Because money for him is nothing so special. So you have to give him special things.
So in the west, we're all kings!
So on the aristocracy's birthday, everyone came to their home and brought gifts.
So maybe it's a trickle-down custom.
But today's birthday is influenced by western culture.
I think obligation and debt are both a necessary part of our life, but we need to distinguish them clearly. Because sometimes if we cannot distinguish them, we will have a lot of dispute. Because, an obligation is more difficult for us to appraise. However, obligation is very useful appraisal method in our life, because we don't need to use money to exchange things in our daily life. For example, I don't have to write down the money I have borrowed from my parents, because we have the relationship, so my parents can trust me, I will take care of them in the future, so they will give me money now.
Whereas my parents wrote down the money in a green book and I had to pay it back to them on a schedule, with interest.
I want to talk about the difference between obligation and debt. Obligation it's no boundary. For instance, if someone saves you once, but you may need to pay your whole life to repay this obligation. And obligations have a not-clear content. No clear itemization, you owe someone an obligation, but there's a lot of things you could repay, and maybe it's a small item, like cook for them, or a big one, like--
Borrow a million dollars?
Something like that. So in modern society, debt is more convenient, because it can be valued by money, and have a certain period, maybe just one year, or five years, or twenty years. And even nowadays, your children can avoid the claim of your debt.
What do you mean?
For instance you might owe me, one million dollars, but if I die, your children can't claim that. But if it's an obligation, it's the children, and the maybe children's children. Obligation may pass to another generation, but nowadays, the next generation might be able to get out of it. That's why in modern society, people want to solve anything, or to deal with the relationships between people.
I think the difference between obligation and debt is psychological debt. It's a psychological level. Because if you never pay the obligation for your friends, there's not any law or duty. If you owe a debt, the bank will want to persuade you to pay the debt. But if you owe the obligation to your friends, your friends will never ask for it back. Like if you owe me a favor, it doesn't always happen, you will not ask for the favor back.
I think less good friends will ask, but not the good friend.
But debt, you MUST pay it back. But the obligation is not so obligatory, actually.
Yeah, so, but I think if for example, I'm fanny's good friend, we know each other for 15 years, then the obligation must exist between us, but I wouldn't want the obligation become the--
Oh gosh, if you cash in the obligation, the friendship disappears!
Yeah, so realistically, if the obligation becomes like cash or money, it's too material.
So you're saying a friendship is not material.
You know, a key difference between obligation and debt, is that there's no violence in obligation, but there's violence in debt. Like, I if I owe someone for saving my life, they're not going to pound on my door one day and demand repayment. Because there's a relationship there, if only of gratitude. But we see all the time that people are beaten up or worse when they don't pay back money that is owed. Obligation is always in the context of some human relationship, but debt takes the human relationship right out of it. And when you take out the human relationship, you bring in violence.