Let People Pay

I’m in the very fortunate position that I really don’t want for much in terms of material things. I can’t and don’t just pull the trigger on everything that strikes my fancy. But let’s say that more than my basic material needs are met.

I’ve realized recently how badly I play certain kinds of social interactions with people.

Let’s take the brewing hobby, so as not to highlight the somewhat more poignant and potentially sensitive example that actually triggered the realization.

For about a decade I used to brew meads, fruit wines, cider, rice wine, hard lemonade (which is much better than the “Mike’s Hard Lemonade” garbage that’s just zima with some lemon flavoring) and other stuff. I tried my hand at Apple Jack (don’t do this. The result will make you feel like someone drove an ice pick into the side of your skull.) Then there’s the whole hot sauce thing.

I’ve settled down with most of that to the point where I’m really just doing the rice wine now. Though…I might take another crack at hard lemonade. That shit was good. (Look up “skeeter pee” online for the recipe. It’s dead easy.)

Now, I don’t drink all this stuff. I make it partially because it’s fun to understand where things come from, partially because of the wide-eyed “wait, you MADE this?” response I get from people.

The general principle is this: I have a surplus of generally desirable material things that have much less value to me than they do to others.

I bring a bottle or two of something I made to either Johnathan’s or the cigar lounge or wherever. About one out of every three or four times someone asks if they can buy a bottle.

It makes me flinch every time. “Nah man I’ll just give you a bottle.”

I don’t expect anything from it. I don’t demand they treat me differently afterwards. I’m not looking for any kind of indebtedness. Sure I like the gratitude. That feels nice.

Most of the time the reaction is “Are you sure? Thanks man. I appreciate it.” Shading up and down from there in a pretty narrow band. But that’s the end of it.

Well…that’s not ALways the reaction. As I mentioned in a post that….I just realized I never posted…sometimes people twitch a little. “No man, let me buy it from you.” Or “I can’t do that.” When this happens you can read the discomfort quite visibly in their body language.

They make something close to a disgust face. It’s interesting because I wouldn’t normally associate that with the actual reaction.

It’s visibly painful for them to accept whatever it is as a gift.

What’s funny about this is that that’s how I react when someone tries to give me something. I’ve got a complete double standard about it. If someone’s trying to give me something I absolutely feel a debt hanging around my neck which eats at my soul until I clear it from the books, preferably with interest.

Now, that’s not ALways true. I’ve got a couple friends where none of this is a factor. It’s not a race to pick up the check for lunch. But we go back and forth. A cigar or two here, a soda there. “hey I bought this piece of electronic gadgetry but I’m not gonna use it, here…” etc. That works because we know we’re on the exact same wavelength about these things. There isn’t really incurred debt. Of course, it also never gets very unbalanced.

But that’s an extreme exception.

In the normal case when someone starts getting insistent on paying for something I’m trying to make a gift of I handle it QUITE poorly. I tend to lean on it and get more and more insistent. It’s because I don’t see enough value in the bottle of wine to warrant payment. In that case the payment the other person insists on therefore BECOMES the gift, which throws the scales out of whack in my head.

It’s the wrong way to think about it, entirely.

I currently have the opportunity to do something for a guy I know who’s in rough straights. It’s a simple matter for me and is of no practical (monetary) value. The item in question is no more than a bit of clutter in my basement.

I don’t want the guy’s money. I really don’t. I don’t need it. But I saw it written all over his face. He needs to have paid for it and I backed off before fucking up too badly.

IF I’d leaned on it and insisted “no man really, it’s fine. You can just have it.” then it would have been (seen as) patronizing, for lack of a better word. It’s a power play.


What I’m thinking is this: Maybe I tell him to buy me a cigar or a drink or two or something. I’d much prefer a bartering arrangement (generally true. Maybe more on that later.) Now in my head that’s about perfect. I’m more interested in whatever thought he’d put in to it, even if it’s him going into a cigar shop and saying “I need a cigar of X value. Whatcha got?”

I think that’s probably fine. Now… the hyper-neurotic in me immediately asks “Would that put undue pressure on him to come up with an effective valuation?” But no. I think that’s actually okay.

You need to understand people, what they need, what makes up their head in order to deal with them appropriately. Sure, you can demand people meet you on your plane, and some people will. Hell, that’s actually the appropriate way to deal with a lot of people. But as a strategy it will only ever take you so far.

Understand when you’re projecting your needs on others. Of course that’s basically impossible. But you can move forward at least a little bit on that dimension. It helps clarify your own motivations, where they come from, and why.

A subtle shift can be all it takes to move from putting someone down to lifting them up, and making that shift does the same for you.