Category Archives: debt

Can Giving a Gift Land You in Debt?

GiftThe custom of gift-giving is one that is missing in the United States, even as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. Why? Gift-giving in other cultures does not stem from a capitalistic commercialism, but rather from the spiritual interaction between a gift giver and a recipient. It has less to do with what you give, and more to do with how you give and to whom you give. It is a practice of cultivating a generosity of spirit that includes rightful action to a community.


In Buddhist philosophy, dana was the spiritual practice of giving that helped to reduce the imperfection of greed in a person and improve their karmic score. Hindus give dana and have very elaborate rituals over what type of gifts will produce what type of karmic benefits. Give a gift of sesame seed to a temple and you get a karmic bonus of fertility. Beyond giving a gift, the recipient also has certain obligations. They must respect the act of the giving as a sacred act, just as the recipient offers it in that same attitude. If the gift is not respected, it is said to lead to the downfall of both the giver and the recipient. Also, giving certain types of gifts actually boomerang on you karmically, rather than raising your karmic score.

It is also suggested that you should not give gifts to people who are not in your spiritual lineage. Some traditions say certain people can only receive gifts. I’ve even heard of other teachings where women must always give, but never take. In Hindu gift-giving one should try to seek out Brahmins to gift as the act is considered “rightful giving” and reaps many spiritual benefits, unlike giving to someone who uses the gift but returns no spiritual teachings to a community. Obviously, I’m not here to argue over whether these traditions are correct or not. I am just suggesting that the act of giving is intrinsic to spiritual wealth, but it comes with some responsibilities. It also has to do with why so many people land into debt.


There are supposedly five stages in the Buddist practice of dana. In the conditional giving stage, you give something because you expect something in return. That is not considered bad, but merely somewhat ignorant. You are expected to do this practice until you can give without expecting anything in return. In America, this amounts to our ideal of “earning one’s wage” or even a fair business transaction. It is tied into our beliefs about integrity and work. We expect that everything we work at will yield some result. However, that’s just not realistic. There are plenty of hard workers that never get the fruits of their labor, for various reasons. I am not about to dump more on them to suggest that they have bad karma either. There are plenty of people who give of their time and efforts working for companies that destroy our environment, steal from people with usurious interest rates, and generally have unethical business practices. And, they make a fortune at it while they’re doing it. I’m not going to suggest they are due bad karma either for doing it. For one thing, this type of teaching has no effect on people who willfully sow bad seeds and it does nothing to help those that have sown good seed, but failed to reap a harvest. Thus, for me at least, gift-giving is not about bettering my karmic odds at all.

Maybe I’m a Miser

I admit that I have no patience for a consumerist Christmas, whether it is giving out tons of presents or sending out Christmas cards. The earth is not going to jump up and down for joy because several forests were decimated over the practice of giving out Christmas cards. I don’t like the unspoken obligation that stems from our puritanical roots that when you get a gift, you’re supposed to give one in return. For one thing, some families have no understanding that the annual Christmas-giving frenzy is a horror for single individuals, with or without children. One family of four (a couple and two children) can give one present of high worth to one individual, but the expectation is that that individual should give back four presents of similar worth each because “the kids are too little to give.” This is despite the economic inequality of that family earning twice as much as the individual that is now responsible for four “gifts” of similar value. In a commercial and “equitable” way of looking at things, the gift recipient is a miser for not giving gifts to everyone on Christmas of similar worth. In a spiritual sense, the GIVER is the one committing a sin against the sacred act of gift-giving. Regardless, that gift-giving act then becomes something that puts both people in debt. The kindest thing one can do then is to opt out of this madness.

Proper Gift-Giving

Do I know what the proper way is to give a gift or receive one? I really don’t think our American culture has an inkling about that. It is something we need to learn from Asian or other similar gift-giving cultures. I know that I have plenty to learn in this area. For one, I have learned over the years that it is not proper to give for altruistic reasons alone. One MUST consider how the gift will be used and who is getting it. I suppose that’s rather judgmental of me, but I consider a gift given to a stranger of far more value than one given to someone who will feel obligated to return something to me. I consider my time at work a gift and that means that sometimes I don’t give as freely in some projects that I consider will produce a negative community result or uphold ideals that will bring down the company or harm others – despite them being framed in altruistic terms. On the other hand, sometimes I give way more than is expected because I know it will be of benefit to others, even when it is framed in commercial terms. In this respect, I do not believe giving one’s life in a fruitless war is appropriate gift-giving unless it is to defend a nation’s peoples. Similarly, some people who work in companies that are unethical are there to plant good seeds in a field full of thorns. You really can’t tell the wheat from the tares until it’s time for the harvest. You might think that an individual or company that gives lots of money to a specific cause is generous and altruistic, but later you find out that they are trying to “greenwash” themselves to fool buyers into trusting their brand. They may give with the right hand a little and take back way more with the left hand – causing tremendous damage to the community all for the sake of hidden greed.

For instance, the IMF has been accused of giving loans to struggling countries only to later use those loans to bankrupt and take over an area. This trickles down to farmers losing needed credit to farm their lands and losing a heritage that might have been in their family for generations. The bank takes the lands and it is not even worked or harvested. It is used to amass wealth and control territory and gain political power by buying politicians. That same land may end up being “gifted” to people in support of the corrupt political system as a thank you for their support. This is a prime example of gift-giving at its worst and the giver and the recipient land both in debt. Ultimately, I think that if we figure out the proper attitude towards gift-giving we may be able to heal what is wrong with our capitalistic system. After all, how many experts have said for years that we are headed for a “gift economy”? Yet, we still have no idea what the proper way is to give and take in a responsible fashion that does not harm others and creates abundance for the community.

How a Person of Integrity Gives a Gift

These five are a person of integrity’s gifts. Which five? A person of integrity gives a gift with a sense of conviction. A person of integrity gives a gift attentively. A person of integrity gives a gift in season. A person of integrity gives a gift with an empathetic heart. A person of integrity gives a gift without adversely affecting himself or others. –

*This is the first part in a series I am going to be doing on gift-giving and the gift economy.


Health Insurance, Bankruptcy, And The Power Of Community

HCAN Rapid Response Columbus 7/22/08Everyone thinks that health insurance is there to keep them solvent should they get sick, but it doesn’t work that way. I’ve talked to far too many people who got seriously sick and could no longer work and when they lost their jobs, they lost their insurance. My friend with the brain tumor is starting to figure this out: The system is stacked against people who get sick, especially if they have health insurance through an employer.

The Statistics

It’s pretty sad, but statistics in a Harvard study published in Health Affairs, pointed to half of all bankruptcies in 2001 coming from medical debt. Of those that went bankrupt due to medical bills, three quarters were for people who at one time had health insurance. If that’s not enough to make you sit up and take notice, nothing will. Health insurance is really no insurance that 1) You will be able to pay all your bills, if you get seriously ill, and 2) That they will cover all the medicines and treatments that you need.

Opt For Community Support To Help Meet the Shortfall

That’s where local community based programs in your area and getting informed on any financial programs for your particular disease become highly important. We’ve decided to work with a program called Project Compassion, here in NC, to establish a support team of volunteers for my friend. Along with that, we are beginning to look over some of the financial assistance available for people with brain tumors. I found a comprehensive list here: Financial Assistance List from The American Brain Tumor Association . I’m sure there are other such lists for different diseases, depending on what you have.

Your Neighborly Experts

And, a network of people who have gone through the system helps too. Right now, we have one person who has gone through the process of collecting disability with the Social Security office for a member of her family who also had a brain tumor. Her understanding of the system will be invaluable. The way I found out about Project Compassion was through another friend who had to set up a support team for a friend of hers who had a stroke and had some cognitive deficits and needed round-the-clock care. He was uninsured when he had the stroke, yet they managed to take care of him and he is doing quite well in the community now. We can’t rely on the government programs, the health insurance system, or any other profit-oriented system to help in these types of cases. It really requires community support, since the United States refuses to put a national health care system into place that will make these types of cases the exception, and not the norm.

Contact Professionals, If You Need To

Yet another friend told me that when he got into a car accident and his wife became ill, he applied for disability and it took over four years to get it. They amassed over $200,000 in medical debt, in the meantime. He eventually hired a lawyer to submit all the proper paperwork, in exchange for some of the back pay on the benefits they were refusing to give him. He said he was later told that 99% of all Social Security disability claims are automatically rejected UNLESS there is an attorney who submits them. Then, they go into a different pile where they are given the attention they deserve. Is that true? I don’t know that we can doubt it at this point, seeing how incredibly callous our governmental policies and health insurance companies tend to be. I think that where something demands compassion, the care should never be organized nor implemented by profit-driven companies or agencies. It’s absolutely nuts.

Build Community Now, Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

So, build your network of friends, a loving community, now, because when times get tough, you know that’s what it takes to get you by. And, if you can’t be bothered to participate to help someone else when they are in dire straits, that sort of thing eventually changes when you’re the one in dire need. It’s a good thing to cultivate compassion now, while we can be thankful for all the good things in our lives – like perfect health.

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Will 2008 Never End?!

I don’t know what is in my energy that is producing the type of dumb money ideas that force me into large money commitments on a monthly basis in 2008. My income hasn’t gone up, but my expenses are exorbitant this year, all because I have too many high-cost projects ahead. The year started out with a bang, and puff puff, when my car apparently had a blown head gasket. Another $4,000 later from various “problems” with the car, and I am now in June averaging an extra – get this – $1500 in expenses per month this year. My budget and my finances are completely blown. This came about also because I had the bright idea to sell my house while I’m finishing up my Master’s degree. Another several thousand later in house fixes and another $3,000 in tuition fees and I can tell you I have no idea how I’m managing to stay afloat. This year has been a WHOPPER, financially, and I wish there were some magic alarm clock that would allow me to hit the snooze button until 2009.

Decisions, Decisions…

So, I’ve been entertaining the idea of quitting the Master’s with only two classes left to go. I just can’t seem to do it, even though I think spending money on a Master’s is a waste of money and would not recommend it to anyone. I’m too close to the end now to quit, but it may be the thing that puts me on the edge of bankruptcy, when all is said and done. Ask me after I’m finished whether I think it is a waste, and I might have a different answer. Right now, I think monetarily it’s one of my poorest decisions ever. I just don’t see it returning the value that it cost me to get any time soon. Not to mention the monetary stress of having to juggle this while the rest of my life falls apart. Yeah, some financial advisors call school debt “good debt” but I think there are some things that will never pay you back for the aggravation you went through.

So, today I am thinking that I was too ambitious trying to sell the house while finishing the Master’s and trying to make up the debt my car put me in. Now, I am in an even worse position of trying to figure out how to finish the fixes on the house, while paying my tuition, and my normal bills – and losing time on work because I have to be in Colorado at Naropa University for a week for this summer intensive. I kept thinking I should save the tuition, bail out on the intensive, and finish the fixes on the house to sell it FAST. But, I won’t be able to take this required course for another year and I will have to get a special dispensation to take it that late. So, I have to take the course now and screw up the rest of my finances for good. So, what did I learn?

Only Chew Off What You Can Handle

I think the thing I learned is that I should have only had ONE major goal at one time and when I was done with that attempt another. Putting two at the same time causes conflicts. I should not have put the house up for sale while I was attempting to finish this Master’s, it was a recipe for disaster. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. But, it’s too late now, and I totally screwed myself. No one to blame for this predicament but me and I can only hope that I get smarter later because I’ve shown a propensity for financial stupidity as of lately. For now, the rest of the house fixes are on hold until I can figure out how to handle the tuition payment. I was trying to do them both, but it’s not going to work. The carpets can wait, the tuition cannot wait.

Image courtesy of Flikr Creative Commons by Kenner