Over the last year, I’ve had a recurring revelation; I’m sick of scorecards. No, I’m not talking about sports. We need scorecards in sports because otherwise no one would ever hear the end of Peyton Manning’s 3-in-a-row touchdowns. I’m sure plenty of you hear enough about it as is, scorecard or not.
I’m talking about scorecards in our relationships. Spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, family, friends, coworkers…doesn’t matter what category the relationship falls into; the rules are still the same: someone does something for you – you owe them. Period. Right? Isn’t that generally how we approach things? Your coworker shares her lunch with you because you were in a hurry and forgot yours and you don’t get paid for another week. So what do you do? You, perhaps guiltily, accept her offer to share, but in your mind you’re thinking about what you can do for her to pay her back. Replace her lunch. Give her some money on payday. Give her your first born. Anything to erase the feeling of being indebted to someone because they showed you some kindness. Come on now…don’t you think that idea is a little flawed?
I’m not saying never repay anyone. I’m just saying there’s no reason to feel guilty or beholden simply because someone in your life made the choice to extend their hand to you. People have different perceptions of how scoring works and how many points to give for each act, as well as how much is adequate (or not) when they’re cashing in their points. How can this ever be an impartial, indisputable way to keep track of who owes who? (Who’s on first? What’s on second?! Sorry…couldn’t help myself.) You might think offering someone a meal is no big deal, while your friend thinks that sharing her food with you is on par with running into a burning building to save you or something. You might try to pay your friend back by offering her a meal the next time you approach a Wendy’s together, but she’s thinking she at least deserves an Olive Garden sized payback. See what happened here? You and your friend just scored her kindness differently. You gave your friend one point for sharing. She gave herself 10 points. So now you owe her. Your fast food is only getting you one point with her and you’re over there looking like a schmuck because you’re thinking the two of you are even now, but you still owe her 9 points & your firstborn son. And maybe an endless salad bowl and some breadsticks?Then, inevitably, over time, your friend has racked up some serious brownie points for herself and you’re still in the red because nothing you can do for her compares to everything she’s done for you, at least in her mind.
Pardon my candor (Divergent reference anyone?), but I think that’s bullshit. When you care about someone, you naturally & sincerely want to give to them. You want to share with them, help them, you care about their wellbeing. In a healthy, abiding relationship the score is never really balanced and you know what? No one effing cares. You know why? Because you’re supposed to do things for people out of kindness, and a desire to give & help. Not because you expect something in return. If you get something in return, great. Consider it a bonus. But don’t do anything with the deliberate & entitled thinking that this person is going to owe you & you’re going to collect one day. And most certainly don’t archive it just to pull it out & parade it around later when you’re disappointed with them. If you never expect anything, how can you ever be disappointed?
In my family, it works like this: If I’ve got it, you’ve got it and vise versa. Not to the point that we’re crippling or enabling each other of course; no one is abusing anyone’s personal boundaries or anything. It just means that we support each other in a healthy way, unconditionally. If my brother is hungry and I’ve got food, he’s welcome to it. And then later, if I need a tank of gas and he’s able to help me out he does. But neither one of us keeps track of who did what for whom or how much it costs. We all do so much for each other that it’s impossible to keep score and I wouldn’t want anyone to. To give without expectation is more fulfilling than to give with the hope that we’ll get our backs scratched. And when we learn to receive another individual’s sacrifice with genuine gratefulness rather than indebtedness, we honor the sincerity of it. I appreciate my family, particularly my mom & granddaddy, so much for raising me that way.
I still battle that feeling of indebtedness every day. Every single time someone outside my immediate family does something even the tiniest bit nice for me, I feel like I owe them. And then I want to kick myself in the face because I truly believe that’s no way to live life (it’s just a hard habit to break). If all my relationships are is a series of business-like exchanges where I’m sorely indebted to every person who’s nice to me, or spends time with me, then what’s the point in having relationships at all? Especially when you consider that you’ll likely never be even?
How can you repay your mother or your father for all the love & nurturing they gave you, or still give you? All the sacrifices they’ve made for you? You can’t. And most parents (the good ones anyway) don’t want you to. I know I want my kids to live full, happy, productive lives because I love them and I want the best for them. I just want them to live. Completely. Fearlessly. I’d like them to take every lesson I have to teach them & use it to their benefit to grow and ultimately become better people. The best way for them to pay me back is to bless the world with their kindness, their smiles, & their genuine hearts. I wouldn’t want them spending their lives feeling enslaved to the task of repaying a perceived “debt” to me when every sacrifice I’ve made has been one I’ve been more than happy to make. Why would anyone expect another person to view their kindness in this way? Like it’s a service you’re providing that you must be compensated for…EFF THAT.
Don’t hoard every thoughtful thing you do for someone in a vault, waiting to cash in on it, or brandish it like a sword to cut people with later when you’re hurting, angry, or feeling spiteful. People don’t need to have your benevolence flaunted in front of them every time you feel like they’ve slighted you somehow. They know what you do for them, not all of it, but for the most part they know. And I believe most people appreciate it greatly, but maybe the ways in which they show their appreciation don’t register for you because you’re keeping score differently than they are. So take the score out of the equation. If you’re being grossly undervalued or taken advantage of then either sprinkle a little tough love on the person(s) in question, or just remove yourself from that person’s life, but for the love of all that is holy – stop keeping score.
I hope that when I die it can honestly be said that I never used my kindness like a weapon against anyone. As far as I’m concerned, every single tally mark I’ve ever made for you or for me is wiped out of existence. This is one instance where I believe in participation trophies for everyone. 😉