The Balance of Favours

I have been having computer issues for some time. Fortunately, my system computer has remained stable for several days, so might finally be returned to its previous functionality. Unfortunately, I it has caused me not only the stress of an ailing computer, but also the stress of potentially not being the friend I usually am.

Although I might have been able to deal with many of these issues with the help of Google on my wife’s laptop, I was fortunate that my friend Alex, whose computer-fu is stronger than mine, was happy to not only spend several chunks of his time off on the telephone with me sanity checking my diagnostics but also give me a converter for my old DVD power cable to fit the new socket. Needless to say I was immensely grateful that he was there to both provide practical help and an ear that knew exactly how frustrating these things can be.

Obviously friendship is not based on payment, but equally I do not wish to take advantage. So, if Alex needed my skills I would be more than happy to reciprocate. Any gift of my time or support would objectively be suitable, but part of me feels his gift of specialist knowledge should be met with my specialist knowledge.

Nodding Goat
Sometimes reciprocation can be fun
Boyce DupreyCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Unfortunately, my greatest area of expertise is the English legal system. To wish for an opportunity to return the favour, would be to wish for Alex to either expect, or already have, legal issues. While I am happy to have helped many strangers achieve a fairer outcome over the years, I would prefer that none of my friends need that help.

This is, of course, a solution to my issue. Instead of being ambivalent about using my legal knowledge to help Alex, I use it to help any acquaintance who needs it when they need it. Indeed the provision of services to some members of the group in exchange for services from other members of the group is very close to my conception of society. However, although I do provide advice and sympathy to friends with legal issues out of generosity, it feels slightly wrong at the personal level to offset these acts against favours done for me.

Possibly the answer lies in realising that I undervalue the potential to help: while the annoyance of a broken computer is not insignificant and the time and money saved by Alex’s help is valuable, it is less annoying, expensive, and time-consuming than a legal case; possibly a friend knowing that I would help with that if asked is reciprocation.

Do you sometimes feel you have received more than you have given? Do you pay-it-forward without a thought?

2 thoughts on “The Balance of Favours

  1. I usually feel as if I have given more than I have received, because it is very difficult for me to ask for help. I have a pretty broad background in mechanics and maintenance, I have helped a lot of people with fixing their cars and houses. When I need help, though, I seldom ask for it, and seldom get it when I do ask.

    I do find your attitude very refreshing. There was a lawyer who I knew through church. He called me–late at night–because he’d lost his ignition key for his car. I got out of bed and made it for him. I didn’t ask for payment and he didn’t offer any.

    Some time later I had some legal problems, and I asked him for help. He told me to make an appointment, and what his fees were. He said that he couldn’t offer any legal advise whatsoever without charging his full rate, because that would be unethical.

    I actually do have a section in my new book that takes place in a courtroom, but unfortunately the subject is US corporate bankruptcy law, and I suspect that’s outside your area of expertise.


  2. I am not an expert on rules of conduct for US lawyers, so I suppose he could be required to charge you; it does seem unlikely though. Besides – unless the NSA are even more focused on everyone than alleged – I do not think anyone would have known if he gave you a few pointers. It is also a stupid business decision, because now you will almost certainly neither use nor recommend his services.

    The specifics of US corporate law are outside my expertise. However – unless US corporate lawyers are your target market – I suspect you want something that seems realistic to the layperson, so if my opinion on whether the scene feels like a proper court case is of use then I am happy to take a look.


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