Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

There Is No Free Lunch

February 6, 1995

In accounting, assets + liabilities = net worth. If you have a lot and you don't owe a lot, then your net worth is great. You have a lot and you owe a lot, then net worth is reduced.

What do you think of a person who has enjoyed an asset and then fails to pay his or her debt? How we feel about our debts is a sign of our moral sensitivity. I don't mean to cast judgments on everyone. Some situations are unfortunate and the law provides for relief to give people a fresh start.

It is possible to use that same equation to look at our moral obligations and duties. For example, substitute benefits or blessings for assets and obligations or responsibilities for liabilities. The equation reads benefits + obligations = net worth. Now apply the formula to various aspects of life besides cash and material goods.

Health: One benefit is our physical body. It is a marvelous, intricate, delicately balanced creation with self-healing and recuperative powers. With it we can see, hear, think, feel and touch. We can love, play and work. We don’t appreciate what we have until we experience a loss of function or feel the pain when all is not well.

With such blessings, what are our obligations? Our bodies need proper rest, nourishment, exercise and stimulation. To have such a wonderful gift and rnistreat it is wrong. Our obligation is to abstain from ingesting harmful substances and take foolhardy risks which either reduces the capacity of the body to function or places it in harm's path.

Citizenship: We benefit from being citizens in a country where we enjoy unparalleled opportunity, justice and freedom. We enjoy a high standard of living, public works and relatively safe social order It is a democracy with protection from oppression and injustice. One needs to visit other countries to see how much we have and enjoy here.

The debt or responsibility we incur with citizenship is to be informed voters, obey laws and pay taxes. We can support its defense and care about the quality of life for ourselves and future generations.

Work: Work is a great blessing. For many, work is survival, a way of paying the bills and puffing food on the table. Hopefully, it is more than that. Work is a creative outlet where our life takes on meaning and growth. Work is a way of contributing to the world.

Whether work is just a paycheck or an immensely satisfying activity, it is a vital necessity. We are needed and we need to be needed.

What are our obligations regarding this benefit? We need to give an honest day's work for an honest day’s pay. We need to be honest and reliable. If we are in business for ourselves, we need to give honest value for the goods and services we provide.

Marriage and friendships: We enjoy great benefits in our relationships. Our spouse or friends give of themselves in many ways to make our life special. We enjoy love, affection, comfort, support, encouragement, companionship, and honest communication. In marriage, we enjoy the benefits of cooperation in maintaining the home, cleaning, cooking, laundry and childcare.

When we take a lot more in a relationship than we give back, then our net worth is low. To build up our net worth, we need to meet needs and to give back. Then our moral "stock" rises in value.

Children in a family receive a lot more than they give. Yet they need to be taught in some small way to give back and to do their part for the family. Relationships are reciprocal even in the family. Another way of repayment to parents is to offer love, attention and to look after their well-being in old age.

Relationship to God: Do we believe in a power greater than ourselves who watches over us and cares about our happiness? Do we believe in a God who sustains and blesses us? If we do, how do we get out of His debt?

If God does exist, and I have faith that He does, then not to acknowledge His hand in our lives would be gross ingratitude and severe negligence. As Christians, for example, we are taught to love God, love our neighbors and to keep His commandments. We are indebted to Him. Other religions teach similar fundamentals.

Judging our moral worth: So how do we measure up? Are we in debt? To whom? How do we feel about those debts?

You pay for what you get. If you get, you should give. There are many bargains, shortcuts to happiness, something-for-nothing gimmicks and rip-off schemes out there. There is no free lunch. To increase our net or self worth, we need to honor our duties and responsibilities for the things we enjoy.