I stack my items on the conveyor belt. The cashier greets me then passes the groceries one at a time over the scanner. Beep. Beep. He peels open a plastic bag and fills it with my things. He announces my total and I swipe my credit card. The register spits out my receipt and the cashier stows it in my grocery bag and hands off everything with a retail smile. I thank him. Transaction complete, I leave the neighborhood grocery store.
Exchanges are temporary, once over so is the connection. But what if I cannot pay? A debt is an incomplete transaction. Most people feel guilt when in debt, things still undone. Stress builds.
Monetary debt or other kinds of debt, like time, knowledge, labor can be accounted. A debt is a quantified obligation. Recently, I heard historian David Graeber on a BBC Radio 4 program say:
“…What is a debt? Its simply A promise. And what is society itself? A series of promises that we make to one another.”
Money becomes more than a form of payment. Money symbolizes personal relations. Power and status are built in creditor accumulation. It remains to your advantage to have others in your debt. Who feels powerless? Those without means or opportunity to exchange equally.
When I am unable to carry out basic transactions like say regular shopping, my disability makes me feel indebted to others. This may not be a particular Stockton’s intention, but it happens.
This is why giving someone objects or money without an exchange does not work in the long run. It works better when the giver allows the receiver to repay the debt, whether in gratitude or perhaps in repayment if circumstances change.
Do you allow others in your debt to repay you?
American society with its focus on capitalism and independence and automobiles and instant gratification and tribute pushes certain groups–like those of us with disabilities requiring reasonable accommodation–into a tight spot with little or no safety net of resources and status.
It is the unicorn who thrives in the lifestyle of living paycheck to paycheck, nevermind in debt. Everyone needs a Stockton and everyone needs to be a Stockton to balance social accounts. We must live with purpose to feel worth.
Favors will always have strings of repayment, implied or stated whether you realized it or not. That is how our society works. Are we fully part of society if we feel indebted to others or relegated to be grateful for misguided charity? Does society owe anything to the disabled?
When I unpack my groceries, I am grateful for the resources replenished in my kitchen. I appreciate the employment of both myself and my husband that provides money to pay for the groceries. Everyday, I earn and pay.
What is your relationship to money? When are you a provider or debtor? When have you forgiven a debt and why? What is the relationship of disability and debt? Tell me about it.
Inspired by BBC Radio 4’s “Promises, Promises: The History of Debt.”