I often see inspirational blog posts, memes and quotes that focus on the idea of teaching the younger generation about life. Lots of these appear to have the same message: nobody owes you anything. What you gain from life will be achieved by the hard work and effort that you put into it. While it isn’t strictly true (and I have seen and read countless examples of evidence to show that luck, being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people can sometimes play a part in success), I like the sentiment.
However, what doesn’t appear to be as widely discussed is what we don’t owe to anyone else. In life we surround ourselves with those that matter to us the most, and it often seems like these people have an opinion on what we do and how we do it, leading us to falsely believe that we owe them certain behaviours and justifications. In truth, here are the things that in fact we don’t owe anyone.
1. We don’t owe anyone a favour. It’s one of my biggest annoyances – wanting to help someone should come from kindness, not obligation.
2. We don’t owe apologies if they are not genuine. An apology given when we are not ready to move on will only temporarily heal the wounds – anger towards someone will usually resurface and will usually cause greater harm in the long term. Apologies should be given when the issue has been resolved in our own minds.
3. We don’t owe somebody a romantic relationship or friendship. It took me a long time to realise that these cannot be simply based around the ideas of familiarity and the fact that you may have known each other for a long time. People change, their priorities and outlook on life change and, as sad as it may seem, time spent with somebody who isn’t the person that you used to know is time that is wasted.
4. We don’t owe somebody our time just because they have requested it. This sounds incredibly harsh, and obviously doesn’t apply to the workplace (can you imagine the response you’d get if you said this to your boss?!) but in your personal life you don’t have to see or spend time with somebody if you don’t wish to. You don’t have to accept a date just because you have been asked. Similarly, if you have been on a date and have decided that you don’t wish to see the person again, you have every right to politely and gently let them down without feeling guilty and worrying about repercussions. If the person reacts in an hostile manner, you clearly made the right choice in the first place.
5. On a darker note, we don’t owe anyone a physical relationship. There are no circumstances that can justify becoming involved physically with somebody if you don’t want to. They may be the nicest, sweetest person in the world and they may have helped you, consoled you, guided you and listened to you, but the answer is always the same. You don’t owe anyone a physical relationship at any time, for any reason.
6. We don’t owe anyone a new experience. My friends and I know each others likes and dislikes, and we don’t get offended when one of us responds with ‘it’s not really my thing, but thanks anyway!’ Of course, this doesn’t apply if a friend asks you to support them in something that they are doing personally – I’ve seen friends perform in comedy clubs, ice hockey matches and fashion shows – but you don’t have to attend events that your friends are ‘trying out’ if you know that it is something you aren’t going to be interested in.
7. We don’t owe anyone ‘just one more…’ or ‘just try this…’ or ‘yes.’ One of my biggest annoyances is when I have decided that I have had enough to drink and there is always that one person who wants me to have just one more. I used to give in after several pleas and have another one just to shut them up, but now I politely decline until they give up. This doesn’t just apply to drinking – it can be in every aspect of life and covers both big or small issues (a rather silly memory that I have is being hassled for nearly two hours at a party to try food that I knew I wouldn’t like as I’ve had it before – I eventually gave in, tried it and hated it, and was then annoyed at both her and myself for allowing myself to be pressured into doing something, however trivial, that I didn’t want to do) – that one more anything shouldn’t have to be forced upon you and you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do, especially if you know that you’ve had enough.
8. We don’t owe anyone the perfectly groomed version of ourselves. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the only opinion on the way that we look that should matter is our own. We shouldn’t have to dress in a certain way, wear the popular labels, be a certain size and present ourselves for the benefit of our friends and partners. At the weekends I spend my time make-up free and wearing hooded sweaters and jeans. Several of my friends are flawless and immaculate at all times. We have never explained ourselves for this, it is just accepted without question.
9. We don’t owe anyone our life story or our secrets. If you don’t want to talk about something personal, you don’t have to, even if a friend has asked. And, to be fair, a genuine friend would not push you to if you weren’t comfortable.
When it comes to life and relationships it is always important to be kind, supportive and genuine. Help others, be there for others, but do so because you want to, not because you feel that you owe them something. And when life requires an explanation, one that should be offered a little more is simply this, offered by the late, great Maya Angelou:
‘You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove’
What about you? Have you ever been made to feel that you ‘owe’ somebody?
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