| 1060 words

Something that's really fascinating to think about is people's relationships with money. Specifically the way that money gets involved with social relationships. It's especially so because oftentimes it's not even apparent that there are many different kinds of feelings about money. I'd bet that most people don't seriously introspect about their own; it's something downloaded into your worldview as a child and then immediately becomes a fact about the way you percieve the world.

By relationship I don't mean anything so simple as whether you have a lot or a little, or whether your good at spending. That's one of the really fascinating parts, that a perspective you adopt when young can persist late into adulthood. Even people who have gone from rags to riches might not change the way that they feel about sharing their wealth.

So what actually do I mean? A way to illustrate it is to think about gift/debts and how freely people share what they have. I know people who have all kinds of different feelings about getting gifts, monetary especially. Before I continue, maybe imagine to yourself how it would make you feel, if a friend of yours, one who's not necessarily especially close, spontaneously gave you a gift of $1000 dollars.

I know some people, maybe the most common type I know, who'd feel intensely uncomfortable. Even if you specifically reassure them that it's a gift willing given, there will be an element of guilt and maybe even shame about getting so much. Other people I know might feel guilty but only until they managed to pay it back in any way possible. Until they balance the scales they won't feel comfortable with what they've received.

If I had to guess, I think the way that these kinds of people model money very differently than the way I do. Perhaps they see money as a marker of self worth. Something you earn with hard work and grit, and getting a large gift might imply that they're unable to earn that for themselves. Or perhaps it would imply that you see them as needy, unable to provide for themselves due to failings in their character. The same goes for giving - it would imply that they are more needy than you.

The way I feel about money, personally, is very different. I am perfectly happy to receive, and I think I could handle a large cash gift without any awkwardness. Conversely I'm also extremely happy to give, and lavishly too if the occasion calls for it, a fact that can make some of my friends who fall into the former category quite uncomfortable.

If I had to explain the way I think about money and deservingness in my brain, I'd say the whole thing feels very dependent on fortune. In fact I think it's quite nice fortune can mean both luck and wealth - that just feels right. I think that money is very dependent on external factors outside of anyone's control, and so any wealth or poverty doesn't represent any personal successes or failings. So it's natural to give when you have plenty and take when you have little.

Of course real life is obviously a mix of both perspectives, but I find people tend to learn towards one or the other. It's interesting that the second one just feels more natural to me, which I think is because my own trajectory feels like I was dealt a very lucky hand from the start. Of course I'm familiar with the work I put in, but I know so very many stories of people who didn't even get the opportunity to try.

Being a fan of the "if I got it, you got it" perspective, I of course feel like it's the better option and I wish more people felt the way I do. I have plenty of friends who always keep track of the bill at restaurants and ensure everybody pays for exactly what they ate. Every meal ends with a group math problem where we all calculate our own items + tip + tax to ensure it's fair. While I understand that perspective, I would be more than happy to split it evenly every time or even take turns paying it in full, or even just having the most financially comfortable always cover it if they wanted to.

Even describing that feels a bit strange, but I do think the system would work fine. I appreciate that oftentimes the bill was split up like this for my benefit, for I was a poor student ordering the cheapest dishes and would usually pay the least, but I still like my way better. I think there's something nice about the perspective that worrying about dollars doesn't matter because you'll surely make up any difference in the course of a friendship. That the bonds you owe to each other dwarf any mere spending difference.

I think this example highlights a stark cultural contrast because this is not how asian families pay the bill. They will argue, sometimes even fight over who gets the privelege of doing so. I think that this is actually more similar to the way my friends think about money than it seems on the surface: money represents hard work and deservingness to them, and nobody wants to feel like a leech.

I do think it's particularly dangerous when this perspective is applied to things other than money. When people would rather pay for movers rather than ask their friends, or pay for a hotel rather than put people through the burden of housing and feeding them. Why impose on people when you could solve the problem with money? Why be a leech? Of course I'd want to venmo my wife to pay for my quarter of the pizza!

As conscientious as that may seem on the surface, I think this is exactly the impulse that leads to loneliness and isolation in the future. Luckily, at least desi culture is very entrenched against this perspective and I don't see that changing any time soon. I certainly credit that part of the culture for ensuring longer lasting social bonds even through adulthood.