February 4, 2011 - submitted by Timmy, United States of America

"If your neighbor takes you out for dinner and from time to time, he shares some of his wine with you, does that mean I am financially in his debt? My neighbor is demanding I pay him 100 dollars for all the nice things he ever did for me. Can a person be a good deeds bank account - where you can get cash later for gifts given now? Your wisdom would be much appreciated in this. Thank you!

The Oracle replies:

Wow, quite frankly I am shocked. In my opinion your neighbour has no right to ask for any financial reimbursement from gifting you dinner and wine etc. Some might say that you took advantage of his generosity but to me it sounds like he had an ulterior motive anyway so was not to be trusted. Gifts by definition are exactly that and you can't suddenly take them back further down the line. I took my ex to the Maldives should I be demanding payment now that we're not together? No of course not, that idea is ridiculous. Hmm but then again... I am joking! Judge Judy would certainly agree with me and your neighbour should not see a penny from you but perhaps in future it would be wise not to accept any similar offers or to occasionally return the gestures to make it more even. Over to you...

I think that if you hadn't been clearly warned that retribution would later be demanded, then in no way are you financially obliged towards your neighbour. So it's quite mean for him to ask. But then, I suppose you are still obliged morally. Although good deeds should always be done for free, I still try to pay someone back the kindness they offered, but rather by returning the favour, not in cash! Perhaps your neighbour is asking for money because he has financial problems at the moment. So you could find a way of helping him out, by what means you can afford: for example you may explain that you can't give him $100, but you are there if he needs your help. That way you would show your gratitude, by still making it clear that you won't pay for friendship. If however, he's doing fine and is simply trying to make a profit out it, make your opinion clear and get away from that harmful relationship! I hope things turn out well. Colleen, France

Our answer is gonna be a bit pretentious, but here goes: Marcel Mauss, the French anthropologist, claimed in his research that “free gifts” are a modern misconception of capitalism. He shows that in primitive times’ gift economy, there was an obligation to accept a gift, but always to reciprocate one, and he shows how this still operates in modern times. For example, if you're invited to a wedding and bring a gift, it is already a “payment” for the “free” food served there, and you would certainly expect a gift from that same person in your own wedding. In this sense, there are no "free gifts". We are in fact all "a good deed bank account" (love that phrase btw).
However, it seems to us that your neighbor is confusing money economy with gift economy, or in more plain words, just being an impolite jerk. We do not live in a tribe anymore, so he needed at least to hint in advance that he is expecting a return, also no one said a gift has to be reciprocated with hard cash. Our advice: give him 10 dollars and say good riddance!
Cheers, Yonatan.

If your neighbor has a good heart (no hidden agendas) he/she will expect nothing in return. Dinner = quality time = caring = a form of love therefore no strings attached since love is freedom. Great people are popular, everyone wants to have dinner with them. Being with people is loving people too it doesn't need to be attached to owing or debt. Sophie

Pay the neighbour his $100 so that he no longer thinks you're in "debt" to him. Then continue to treat him well in word and in deed. Try to demonstrate with your actions how a decent human being treats others: with kindness, patience, forgiveness, and generosity, regardless of whether or not it's ever reciprocated. Bitterness and resentment are, perhaps, the easiest emotions to feel in this sort of confrontation, but in the end they are always the least rewarding. Relationships of all sorts often experience growth after going through, and resolving, conflict, and are that much more meaningful for having done so.
Consider what it would be like having your neighbour as your friend, versus as your enemy (especially if neither of you intend to move any time soon.)
I heard it said once that anger should be a short-term visitor, not a long-term guest; Let your anger drive you to resolve this issue without stooping down to his level. Ask yourself, “Five years from now, how will I have wished I had responded to this.”
This is certainly not the easiest way to handle the situation, but remember: bitterness is not known for its healing abilities. Hope this helps! Harley.

I believe a GIFT must be well-thought-of before given, by the "Giver".
I can give the gift from my heart with no strings or hidden agendas attached to it - it is truly a PRESENT (in the now).
When I think later: maybe I should not have given the gift, then I know that is not my heart speaking, but my ego. Marina.

I think, legally, terminology could dictate some implications (or was dinner "a gift"?), but we leave jurisdiction well behind when talking about a simple dinner (albeit with wine!) with friends and neighbours. The simple act of one person purchasing dinner is considered not only customary, but done out of sheer empathy and kindness. Obviously, if the payee makes the issue of reciprocity known upon buying dinner, then there may be some obligation for you to return the favour. However, I think all this messing about could be easily solved by you taking your (hopefully now not estranged) neighbour out to dinner. Just make sure YOU pick up the cost and provide some polite, friendly banter! Tom

I would honestly say that while you might be in your neighbor's "debt", I hardly think it appropriate to demand cash from you.
Look at it this way a person does a good deed, (in this case, taking you out to dinner, giving you wine) to feel good about themselves. In most cases, people don't expect something in return. This is not to say that they would not be delighted to receive something in return, (i.e. you take him out for dinner at a later date, etc) but if the person is truly trying to be a do gooder, they shouldn't be blackmailing you as such, which, is really what they're doing.
You shouldn't be a "good deed bank". The best way to solve this, peacefully, is to have a talk with the person, maybe over dinner, and then you pay the tab as a show of goodwill. Have a system set up where if he takes you out for dinner, then you pay for dinner next time.
Sometimes, a simple talk will solve layers upon layers of issues. Simplicity is best. Fox

We should not give only to expect a payback eh!? Nej nej, we should give not expecting anything back. God bless you guys. Annso

The definition of a favor: something done or granted out of goodwill, rather than from justice or for remuneration. The definition of neighbor: a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his other fellow humans.
Apparently your neighbor needs a vocabulary lesson because he obviously does not comprehend the meaning of these words. Instead of sending your neighbor 100 dollars, send him a dictionary with a note attached that says this: "Knowledge will get you much farther than money will."
Maybe this sounds harsh, but your neighbor doesn't seem all that benevolent either... Hannah, Omaha, NE.

Thanks to everyone and apologies to the regulars who write every week; please don't stop replying.

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