Let’s do a little imagination exercise and see where it takes us.
Pretend with me, for a moment, that nobody owes you anything.
Are you clear on those words, though?
You can’t come up with caveats or loopholes.
The thought experiment is this:
- Nobody (that means no one, no person dead or alive, no entity, no organization, no institution, no being or group of beings)
- Owes (is obligated to, should, ought to, has a duty to, is responsible for, or in any way is morally ethically legally or existentially indebted to you or required to give you anything)
- You (that’s you, the individual)
- Anything (that literally means anything: tangible or intangible, physical or spiritual, past present or future)
So let’s try that on for size.
Nobody owes you anything.
How does that feel? What does that mean? What would that change about your life, if this idea were real? If it went beyond your imagination and applied to your actual day-to-day existence?
- the government did not owe you health care or a better taxation system or equal representation or social change or updated policies or sensible laws or a fair judiciary system
- your neighbors did not owe you courtesy
- your landlord did not owe you a grace period on your rent
- your parents did not owe you a good childhood
- people in general did not owe you an offense-free interaction
- women did not owe you their smile or their beauty and certainly did not owe you their attention or affection
- men did not owe you their courtesy or protection and certainly did not owe you their capability or admiration
- your friends did not owe you a social life
- your kids did not owe you respect
- your partner did not owe you connection or honesty or faithfulness
- your boss did not owe you a second chance
- your readers did not owe you a second glance
- your followers did not owe you a like or a clap or a comment or a share
- your mechanic did not owe you an honest assessment or a fair price
- your church did not owe you spiritual direction or higher morals
- your peers did not owe you inclusion
- your workplace did not owe you fair wages, decent hours, or a safe work environment
- your school did not owe you an education
What if nobody owes you anything, and you have to get what you want for yourself?
What if nobody owes you anything, and, in fact, you do get exactly what you deserve: all the time, from everyone, every experience, every encounter?
I’m not saying that’s true, of course. Ridiculous idea.
But what if…
What if you held on to this thought for a while? As an experiment.
See what happens in your life when you quit thinking that people owe you things.
See what happens when you drop that burden of being a resentful, unpaid debtor.
See what happens when you quit trying to collect and start trying to deserve.
See what happens when you ask instead of expecting.
Maybe if we could all pretend—for a while—that nobody owes anything, we could clear some space.
Maybe we could make room to give and receive beautiful gifts from each other.
Maybe we could find our way to gratitude.
Maybe we could have a lot more fun.
Annie Mueller is a writer, reader, seeker of growth, and transplant to Puerto Rico, where she lives with her best friend and their four children. Her crash course in self-discovery came from experiencing job loss, financial devastation, Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, and major surgery—all in less than a year. She writes about creativity, personal growth, and spirituality; runs Prolifica, a content management consultancy for small teams and solo professionals; and sends out a popular weekly newsletter about feelings and freelancing. You can find more of her work on her website.
Image courtesy of Drew Collins.