Many years ago, I travelled with my supplier to see a stone cutting factory in Shantou. I was dozing off during the four-hour drive while my supplier’s friend drove us to the factory in his fancy new car.
Eventually, I woke up from my nap, but continued resting comfortably with my eyes closed. In this way, I overheard my supplier and his friend discussing how business success attracts borrowers. My supplier’s friend said that at first, he would always lend money to anyone who asked to borrow, worried that if he refused, he would lose a friend. But soon he noticed the borrowers not only had no intention of paying back the loans, but would also begin to avoid him. After that, he decided not to lend money anymore because he’d lose a friend either way.
I thought of this conversation many times in my life, and I don’t know whether this has shaped the way I treated my friends when they were in trouble. But I learned my own lesson later and it has completely changed my view on whether to lend money to friends.
When I first ventured into having my own business, I rented a small room in a shared office space. One of my neighbors was a Chinese man who spoke heavily accented Cantonese and was probably 20 years my senior. I say probably because he guarded his personal information with all his might. I did not know whether he was married or had children, what he did before he landed there, or what business he was running. We always shot the breeze about nothing just to kill time. The only thing I knew about him was he was doing some kind of financial instrument trading with European banks. Whatever he was doing, his demeanor and knowledge made it seem unlikely that he was actually a financier.
A few years later, he moved to Europe where his clients were. He remained friendly with me and would call me occasionally. We continued to shoot the breeze and I continued to be ignorant about his personal life; I didn’t know where he lived, what his telephone number was, or what business he was in.
A few more years passed, and I didn’t hear from him. Then one day, out of the blue, he called me. He said he’d had an accident and fallen off an escalator, hit his head, and had spent two years in a hospital in France. He told me that in those two years, he had used up all his savings and wondered whether I could lend him three thousand dollars, which he promised to pay back in a month. He said he needed the money so that he didn’t have to sleep on the street.
My first instinct was that everything he had told me was a lie. I didn’t believe that he’d been in the hospital for two years nor that he would pay me back in a month. But I did think his need for money was real.
I was unsure whether I should lend him the money. I would have to take it from my line of credit—but at least I had the ability to borrow from a bank, which he obviously did not. I knew I would never be able to find him, and would have to rely on his mercy to call me.
I didn’t agree to lend him the money, but I thought if he called again, I would lend it to him.
But he didn’t call again. He vanished.
In the next ten years, he was in my thoughts. What had happened to him? Would I find him sleeping on the streets of Paris if I travelled there? If he needed the money so badly, why hadn’t he called again? I was both worried and guilty.
From that experience, I learned I would rather lose three thousand dollars than live with the guilt of not having helped an acquaintance who had swallowed his pride to ask me for help. It was guilt I would have to live with for the rest of my life.
To comfort myself, I thought that if I ever saw him on the streets of Paris, I would buy him an airplane ticket, bring him back to Canada, and make sure he was safe and that he got back on his feet.
This experience has taught me to volunteer assistance to friends who I know need help. I am lucky to have friends who have always paid me back with gratitude, and sometimes they are able to help me in return, doing more for me than I ever have for them.
Timing is Everything
In 2020, at the start of Covid-19, my long-lost friend called from Europe. THANK GOD! He was safe and fine! I apologized to him for not helping him back then. I was so grateful that his call had cleared my conscience.
My friend wasn’t angry, and he didn’t hold it against me. Instead, he was philosophical about it. He said, sometimes, it is just timing.
Yes. Sometimes it is just timing.
A few nights ago, the handyman in our neighborhood called to borrow a couple of hundred dollars. I was so glad my husband agreed to give him the money right away. This winter has been exceptionally warm, and there hasn’t been much snow, so the handyman’s snow clearing business has dried up.
It was the end of the month, and he probably needed rent money. I was so happy we could help.
There is a Chinese saying that goes, “the person who helps is more fortunate than the person who receives help.”
Thanks for giving us the chance to help!