We'll call him Spike. He was big, tattooed and pierced, on lots of narcotics and, oh yeah, without a job. I was on the team to try to help him turn his life around in five weeks. (Did I ever mention my former career was challenging?!)
Spike had a pregnant wife. Very pregnant. They had no car and no way to get one. My sister was just about to have a vehicle repossessed when she and her husband split and neither could afford the SUV individually.
"Hey, your car is getting old, why don't you buy mine?" Honestly, my car was 10 years old but was running like a champ and I was not eager to take over payments for a vehicle I didn't need, but my husband convinced me that we should help my sister. Next thing you know, I have a car I don't need and then there is Spike, really working hard to turn his life around.
"Hey, Spike, do you have a dollar?"
"Um. Yeah. Why?"
"Want to buy my car?"
When he picked his jaw off the ground we shook hands and sealed the deal. I brought her to the hospital the next day ready to transfer the title. He got in, looking a bit large for the tiny Subaru, but what do you want for a buck?
Then he lights up a cigarette.
I laughed and grimaced and said, "I'm a dork, I know, but this is my baby and could you wait to smoke until later?" He laughed, being a bit of a gearhead and said, "Cool. No problem. I totally understand." After a couple minutes we went back in so he could finish the day's therapies.
Yeah, I was feeling all Good Samaritan Random Act of Kindness Altruism Poster Girl about it.
And then Spike drove up one day and my car had a fire engine red racing stripe right down the center.
Okay. Fine. Yeah. Okay.
And a For Sale sign in the window.
He's selling my car?! He needs that car! What's he going to do with the money?
NO! He wouldn't buy narcotics with it would he?
I was beside myself. What did this mean? What was he doing? Did he completely fool me and now I gave him a means to mess his life up even more? I mean, I shouldn't have done that to begin with. I'm a therapist! What was I doing selling my car to a client?! I knew this could come to no good.
I kept my mouth shut and just fretted in silence, afraid to draw attention to what an idiot I had been, until the next day when Spike pulled up in a station wagon – a sensible family car that could fit a child seat and accommodate his large frame and his wife infinitely better than my car ever could have.
You know by now that I saw a Buddha at work, right?
I didn't realize that I had tied quite so many strings to the car, but in addition to that dollar, I was asking a lot more of Spike. I was asking him to stay off drugs and to be a responsible family man and to maybe not smoke so much and to stop painting my car for the love of God!
And at the first sign that he wasn't going to honor this implicit deal I was in turmoil and questioning why I was so "generous." The truth is, if he wanted to burn that car in an alley, it was his right to do that.
The 24 hours during which I got to watch my mind undergo untold torture as I questioned my "gift," his motives, and my ethics — all this only to have to eat a big huge plate of crow at the end was the true gift in this exchange.
Give with an open heart and no conditions where you can. And don't when you can't!
When you have conditions, be honest about it. Name them. Make the deal out in the open. Give everyone the chance to have informed consent. Treat each other as equals, both worthy of respect and be open about what, if any, expectations you have.
Better to make no deal than to make a covert contract that leaves someone beholden to you and sets you up to be the standard bearer for their future decisions.