November 21, 2006
Markers (Moral IOUs)
What are markers? Well, they are moral IOUs for favors given - solicited or not. Putting it bluntly, it's debt of gratitude (utang na loob in Pinoy parlance). It could be anything from the use of a car, extended airmiles, or even a mundane invite for a night on the town.
Asking for the favor usually means acknowledging the debt with both parties coming to an implied agreement. What if it was offered, was never asked for, but accepted nonetheless? Hmmm....very tricky. The benefactor assumes the debt is incurred, often times unbeknownst to the unsuspecting beneficiary that he is now indebted.
Pay Back Time
Usually, even if markers are not collected, it still remains indelible in the mind of the benefactor (think: if Joe borrows even P1 from John, would John forget?). However, when the shit hits the fan, those markers are often called upon. It's a very difficult and awkward predicament to an unwilling and perhaps surprised debtor. Why? Because he probably didn't see it coming. He is led to believe that 'no' is not an option. When you owe, your politics are no longer yours, or be labeled persona non grata. You're fair game. Markers can be collected in other shapes and forms on top of the more direct pay-back method - presumed loyalty, upgraded ranking in the totem pole, or in extreme cases, it's "I own you".
Why the rant on markers? Well, I had been an unwitting beneficiary of such stringed-generosity on more than one occasion. Through naïveté, I've accepted a few gestures of generosity thinking it's an idyll give-and-take between two friends....until BOOM! Don't get me wrong. I like doing favors and I like returng favors. In fact, I can't wait to return a stringed-favor because owing doesn't sit too well with me.
What blows me away though is the manner it is exacted and the kind of pay-back expected...or should I say demanded. A dollar on the dime? It's funny how these expectations are borderline delusional.
In a 'down the road' perspective, this is a good thing too. Why? Because the person essentially reveals his true color and expectation. Now, you can make an intelligent decision if you still want this kind of human-connection to further itself...or to nip it at the bud. As far as I'm concerned, it's simply baggage I don't need. I learn from it, move on and relegate the whole episode as archival footnote.
I can't claim to be completely clean. I've given favors in the past and expected more than a polite 'thank you'. Sure. Guilty as charged. It's human nature to expect something in return for a good deed. Eventually though, the expectation becomes its own baggage that inevitably weighs you down. A good deed is its own reward. If I find myself doing a favor, I simply consider it my "thank you" for all the favors I've received in the past...and it ends there. No IOUs. A good number of interpersonal struggles were fought and won to learn that lesson.
Frankly my dear...
So what exactly did I do when such markers were collected? Or to put it another way, what did I do when the rug was pulled from underneath me? I thanked the person (again!) for whatever the past favor was, but made it clear in no uncertain terms that I'm not indebted...at least not to the unsolicited favors I've unwittingly accepted.
Go where you wanna go...be what you wanna be...do what you wanna do. It's a mantra I try to live by. But how can you, when your politics are no longer yours? Fortunately, I've become guarded against that. Persona non grata? As Clark Gable said in Gone With the Wind, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn".
By writing this article, I run the risk of presenting myself as a cynic. No such thing as a free meal? Of course not. I would not feign a genuine act of kindness when there is one. Besides, it kills human-connection before it can take roots. If not for human-connection, what's the point?
I've met too many magnificent people along my journey who have opened their doors and allowed me within their orbit, without asking anything in return. They serve as an exalted example I continue to emulate. Moreover, the world is full of such magnificent people I have yet to meet.
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