Author Topic: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom  (Read 6654 times)

champion

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 33
We've seen a few threads in these forums about the looming liabilities presented by relatives who don't save anything for the future. 

Below is a take from Harry Browne, author of How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.  His book is about avoiding "traps" that trick us into being less free than we really are.  His take is basically that it would be weird to hitch your financial wagon to self-destructive relatives just because they are relatives.  Positive relationships are relationships of mutual benefit.  Feelings of guilt or obligation are freedom-limiting traps.

Check it out: 

Another family area that creates restrictions upon one's life is the
existence of relatives.

There appears to be an unwritten law that blood is thicker than self-interest.
One supposedly has a duty to value his blood relatives—
simply because they're relatives.

This means, for openers, that you owe something to your parents.
And then you have a multitude of responsibilities to anyone else who
happens to be in the family tree by accident of birth.

If your cousin has a heart attack, you might be expected to chip in
for the hospital bill.

Or if your child chooses to have ten children of his own, you're
expected to buy ten birthday presents and ten Christmas gifts every
year for the grandchildren.

Since my family has never imposed these kinds of burdens upon me,
it was only a few years ago that I became aware that this sort of thing
was so widespread. At first, I was amazed to discover how much of an
individual's life could be monopolized by his relatives.

To be responsible for someone who happens to have been born into
the same family doesn't make sense. Any relationship that isn't based
upon mutual self-interest is bound to have poor consequences.

YOUR PARENTS

The most serious problems usually develop with one's parents.

Too often, a
parent-child relationship is a unilateral contract, initiated and ruled by
the parents. They decide not only what they will give to the child but
also what the child owes them in return.

The parents seldom even state precisely what this is. They can
simply invoke a claim at any time for anything, justified by “all we've
done for you.”

The parents might claim money, attention, time, love, or favors; or
they might demand that the child live his life in a way approved by
them.

As a result, the child can carry a vague, indefinite and—for all
practical purposes—infinite debt. He's never wholly free to plan his
own future without potential interference from his parents.

This, of course, takes us back to the Identity Trap, the Morality
Trap, and the Unselfishness Trap. All kinds of pressures are used to
enforce the parents' claims; but more than anything else, the weapon
used is guilt. The child is made to feel guilty for disappointing the
parents.

It may be redundant to point out once again that no one is qualified
to run your life for you, but the point can't be made too often.

Whatever your parents did “for you” was actually what they did for
themselves. They took a calculated risk that the time, effort, and money
they expended would produce a child they would enjoy, and they hoped
it would lead you to a life they would consider favorable to them. If
you choose not to live that kind of life, they lose on that part of their
investment.

Your parents decided for themselves how they would live their own
lives.

Whatever they did, they chose to do it. They may have chosen
wisely or they may have chosen foolishly—but they chose.

Now you have to choose, too. And you have to choose in a way that
fits your nature.

They may never understand that you have to choose for yourself. If
you base your hopes upon getting their agreement before you act in
ways of your choosing, you're relying on an indirect alternative—and
you may wait the rest of your life without ever acquiring the
opportunity to be free.


HANDLING GUILT

Whether your restrictions are imposed by your parents or other
relatives, their principal weapon is most likely guilt. They can make
you suffer emotional discomfort for going your own way—even if
you're convinced you're right.

Because guilt is an emotion, there's no easy way to eliminate it. But
it helps to realize that once the guilt is inflicted upon you. there's
usually never enough you can do for your relatives to get rid of the
guilt. You're going to feel guilty even if you do most of what's asked of
you.


GETTING FREE

If you feel imprisoned by your parents or relatives, it is you who
must make the move to be free. No one else is going to bestow your
freedom upon you.

In any kind of disengagement, you don't have to be brutal, indignant,
resentful, or unfeeling. You have only to decide carefully what you
believe the limits of your involvement should be, and then set about to
make that a reality. Recognize that everyone involved is doing what he
thinks best, that it is a conflict of interest that creates the problem.


IT'S YOUR CHOICE

You are an individual, not part of a group. Your relationship with
anyone should be confined to those areas that are mutually beneficial.
And no relationship should have a lifetime contract implied in it.

You will decide for yourself what you'll do with your life. You can
choose the indirect alternative of trying to please others by your
actions. Or you can choose the direct alternatives and live your life as
you want to live it.

No one is holding you back. Those who want to restrict you have no
power over you; they rely upon your willingness to stay in the traps.
All you have to do is to reject the traps and climb out of the boxes. It's
entirely your decision to make."

MattC

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 43
  • Age: 39
  • Location: Troy, NY
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #1 on: May 14, 2013, 04:00:44 PM »
If you look at this from the perspective of "What did humans do in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness" (i.e. when we were all hunter-gatherers), it made a LOT of sense to help out all our relatives when we had "savings".  This is because our "savings" would be in the form of food, and if we, say, killed a deer, we had better get it eaten before it went bad.  We earned negative interest on stored food, to put it in economic parlance.  The best return on surplus food we could achieve was to invest it in the bellies of our family and friends, so that when they had surplus they would probably share with us. 

So basically, there is a genetic element to this issue in that we're hard wired to want to help the folks around us when the going gets tough and we have savings.  Now, though, unless we're very poor, there is no longer a survival benefit to monitarily helping the folks around us.  You could even argue there's a survival benefit to being poor, as poor people in todays world have more kids.  However, things have not been like this long enough to really alter our genetic tendancies at this point.  We are still programed with strategies beneficial to hunter-gatherers as opposed to modern citizens of the first world. 

I think knowing this is useful for applying ethics to real situations.  These are our tendancies upon which our ethical systems are overlaid.   

ficarrot

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 6
  • Age: 34
  • Location: Washington, DC
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #2 on: May 14, 2013, 07:05:10 PM »
Sorry, but most of this is utter tripe.  The idea that moral obligations (many of which are obviously furnished by family and other close relations) can be jettisoned as soon you "realize" that they "restrict your freedom" is juvenile.

arebelspy

  • Administrator
  • Senior Mustachian
  • *****
  • Posts: 27670
  • Age: -999
  • Location: Traveling the World
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2013, 09:17:42 PM »
Sorry, but most of this is utter tripe.  The idea that moral obligations (many of which are obviously furnished by family and other close relations) can be jettisoned as soon you "realize" that they "restrict your freedom" is juvenile.

I think you dismiss it too quickly.

Have you read the book?

I have, and I've also studied ethics a fair amount.  "Juvenile" is not how I would describe it.  YMMV.
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, and now travel the world full time with two kids.
If you want to know more about me, or how we did that, or see lots of pictures, this Business Insider profile tells our story pretty well.
We (rarely) blog at AdventuringAlong.com. Check out our Now page to see what we're up to currently.

ThatGuyFromCanada

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 81
  • Location: Calgary Alberta - Canada
    • www.jonathanneufeld.com
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2013, 10:19:45 PM »
Sorry, but most of this is utter tripe.  The idea that moral obligations (many of which are obviously furnished by family and other close relations) can be jettisoned as soon you "realize" that they "restrict your freedom" is juvenile.

I think you dismiss it too quickly.

Have you read the book?

I have, and I've also studied ethics a fair amount.  "Juvenile" is not how I would describe it.  YMMV.

I haven't read the book and I'm curious to know more. Based on the limited quote in the first post I'm inclined to agree with Arbelspy. If I read it correctly he is saying "you are the mater of your life and can choose your route accordingly." So you can choose to support a broke relative, or you can choose not to; either way there are consequences by choosing you accept them. I also read it to say that no one can saddle you with "obligations" that you do not accept

arebelspy

  • Administrator
  • Senior Mustachian
  • *****
  • Posts: 27670
  • Age: -999
  • Location: Traveling the World
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2013, 10:38:49 PM »
That's a great interpretation Jon.  Your post is almost exactly his message.

It's not that moral obligations can be jettisoned, just that the obligations can be a trap you fall into, and think it restricts your freedom, when that is not necessarily the case.

In fact, related to your comment about cosequences, Mr. Browne goes into how there are costs to everything, and if you are willing to pay the cost you can change any situation.)
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, and now travel the world full time with two kids.
If you want to know more about me, or how we did that, or see lots of pictures, this Business Insider profile tells our story pretty well.
We (rarely) blog at AdventuringAlong.com. Check out our Now page to see what we're up to currently.

GreenGuava

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 230
  • Location: Los Angeles
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2013, 10:58:51 PM »
I read this book at the encouraging of a friend back in my first year of college.  Unfortunately, I gave my copy of the book to a friend at the end of college and haven't seen it (or her, come to think of it) since.

Regardless of your politics - and mine, when I have them, don't align quite with all of Mr. Browne's - the book is fantastic.  It helped 18-year-old me think about what I wanted out of relationships and life.  I should add it to my reading list and go fetch it from a library one of these days and read it again.

Fun side note, related to this:  my first introduction to investing - more than half a decade before I'd have any money to invest - was The 16 Rules of Financial Safety.  It's still a good read (and short).

_Edit to clarify_: that side article was written by the same author as How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World (of which an excerpt started this thread)

Villanelle

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 2581
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2013, 08:20:29 AM »
Sorry, but most of this is utter tripe.  The idea that moral obligations (many of which are obviously furnished by family and other close relations) can be jettisoned as soon you "realize" that they "restrict your freedom" is juvenile.

I'd say it is far more "juvenile", or at least far less enlightened and self-aware, to blindly accept societal pressures and to allow them to mindlessly become obligations.

For my examined life, I've decided that I do accept many of the familial obligations that are expected, but I don't accept them simply because they *are* expected.  And I buy into them more for some relatives than others, based on the history and so many other factors. 

So I've held most of the obligations and jettisoned only a few.  There are very, very few situations, for example, where any relative would ever move in to my home.  But if my parents needed money tomorrow due to some extreme tragedy (which is unlikely as they had full on handlebar 'staches before MMM was even born), I would assist them enough to cover basic needs. 

In the end, it sounds to me like the book is more about examine the obligations and making reasoned, thoughtful choices about whether you accept them, rather than shouldering them simply because someone said you should and most other people do. (After all, most other people don't save much for retirement, and we've all decided that's not for us.) Get rid of them simply because they are expectations, and then add them back to your ethos once you've decided they've earned a place there, or not.

madgeylou

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2373
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2013, 08:48:45 AM »
in theory, and even in practice in large swaths of my life, i agree with this author. lots of people seem to think that family members are automatically entitled to each other's time and resources simply by virtue of being related, but i've never felt that way. if someone is in my life, it's because they add value to it, not because i feel guilty. care-taking is something that doesn't interest me in the least, so i don't set things up in a way that anyone should expect me to take care of them. i've chosen not to have children, and i draw strong and appropriate boundaries with adults who seem hell-bent on being taken care of.

and yet ... i find myself in a situation where obligations have, in fact, limited a great deal of my freedom, and that's because i have a very elderly and frail grandmother who doesn't have anyone else to look after her. so the last 10 years have been varying degrees of my freedom being limited by her needs.

like i said earlier, care-taking doesn't come naturally to me. i kind of hate it, actually. and there are (many) moments when i rail against it and feel resentful and angry that this responsibility i never wanted and have carefully avoided has been dumped in my lap. but the the truth is that i actually DO have the freedom to run away if i want. i'm not trapped in anything. the fact is that i choose to not let her reach the end of her life alone.

in the more difficult moments, somehow it does help me to realize that i'm not a victim here, that i simply made a choice and am following through on it. it makes me feel more like i'm doing something nice for my grandma and for the world, instead of being ickily and guiltily forced into a role i never wanted.

arebelspy

  • Administrator
  • Senior Mustachian
  • *****
  • Posts: 27670
  • Age: -999
  • Location: Traveling the World
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2013, 08:51:16 AM »
and yet ... i find myself in a situation where obligations have, in fact, limited a great deal of my freedom, and that's because i have a very elderly and frail grandmother who doesn't have anyone else to look after her. so the last 10 years have been varying degrees of my freedom being limited by her needs.

No, they didn't.  You chose that, there was no obligation.

in the more difficult moments, somehow it does help me to realize that i'm not a victim here, that i simply made a choice and am following through on it. it makes me feel more like i'm doing something nice for my grandma and for the world, instead of being ickily and guiltily forced into a role i never wanted.

This is absolutely right.  I also have recently been supporting a grandmother (great grandmother, actually), and it's a choice I make that - despite the costs - is not limiting my freedom in any way.

You can be free.
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, and now travel the world full time with two kids.
If you want to know more about me, or how we did that, or see lots of pictures, this Business Insider profile tells our story pretty well.
We (rarely) blog at AdventuringAlong.com. Check out our Now page to see what we're up to currently.

smedleyb

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 434
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #10 on: May 15, 2013, 09:37:37 AM »
The "trap" of being accountable to your fellow man during his or her time of need.

Oh the horror!

Sounds like something Ayn Rand would say if she had a dick.

Spork

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5753
    • Spork In The Eye
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #11 on: May 15, 2013, 09:40:28 AM »
The "trap" of being accountable to your fellow man during his or her time of need.

Oh the horror!

Sounds like something Ayn Rand would say if she had a dick.

I'm guessing you don't have the same relatives I do.  I'll sell you my sister.   ;)

hybrid

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1669
  • Age: 52
  • Location: Richmond, Virginia
  • A hybrid of MMM and thoughtful consumer.
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #12 on: May 15, 2013, 11:21:11 AM »
The "trap" of being accountable to your fellow man during his or her time of need.

Oh the horror!


My mother is 72 and not in the best of health.  Her finances are decent, but I could see a situation where she would exhaust them if her health turned really south.  Maybe that will happen, maybe not.  She has just two close relatives in her life, her two sons.  I cannot imagine a situation where we would not step up to bat for her if that would happen.  When duty calls, you step up.

My brother-in-law has spent every two nickels he could rub together and borrowed the rest, and will likely file for bankruptcy soon.  But he is able-bodied and works full time, he just can't manage his money.  I don't feel any obligations there whatsoever.

I think most people will get the differences.

ficarrot

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 6
  • Age: 34
  • Location: Washington, DC
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #13 on: May 15, 2013, 11:33:27 AM »
I'm not challenging the idea that we CHOOSE to do whatever we want with our money and our time.  Of course it's a choice whether to provide material support to family and other relations.  But that is a completely separate issue from whether you have an OBLIGATION to provide support.  It's commonplace for people to fail to recognize their obligations, or else choose to ignore them.  My only claim was that many of us do, in fact, have (moral) obligations to help our families. What we choose to do about that fact is of course up to us.

BPA

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1191
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #14 on: May 15, 2013, 11:37:20 AM »
I have a son with special needs who may be underemployed as an adult as a result of those needs.

I would be a total dick not to choose to help him.  I will say that I am teaching him to be frugal and that will help, but any parent who wouldn't choose the obligation to help their own child who really can't help himself as much as the general population is a horrible person, IMO.

I'm grateful to any social programs that would also help him out, but he will likely need my help to a degree.

(One of the many reasons I'm not a fan of Libertarian politics.)

smedleyb

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 434
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #15 on: May 15, 2013, 11:38:11 AM »
The "trap" of being accountable to your fellow man during his or her time of need.

Oh the horror!


My mother is 72 and not in the best of health.  Her finances are decent, but I could see a situation where she would exhaust them if her health turned really south.  Maybe that will happen, maybe not.  She has just two close relatives in her life, her two sons.  I cannot imagine a situation where we would not step up to bat for her if that would happen.  When duty calls, you step up.

My brother-in-law has spent every two nickels he could rub together and borrowed the rest, and will likely file for bankruptcy soon.  But he is able-bodied and works full time, he just can't manage his money.  I don't feel any obligations there whatsoever.

I think most people will get the differences.

My beef is with the notion that the individual has value/meaning apart from the social context in which he or she is embedded.  It's a spurious dichotomy designed to naturalize selfishness. 

Joet

  • Guest
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #16 on: May 15, 2013, 11:44:10 AM »
not sure if this is covered anywhere by the author or subsequent discussion(s), but my door is always open to relatives. Come on over if you are struggling, I will make sure you dont starve to death. But I hope you dont have to couch-surf forever. In the context of cash transfer payments, not sure how much I'd be willing to do there long term.

For example some of us may be fortunate enough to have parents [or even siblings] that dont need any assistance and are doing well enough. Awesome. Not everyone is in such a situation. It might be a wise fiscal move to 'cut the cord' so to speak with financially struggling parents but that isn't really a fiscal decision, IMO.
« Last Edit: May 15, 2013, 12:11:10 PM by Joet »

Rachelocity

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 98
  • Location: Montreal
Re: Avoid trap of supporting broke relatives--Harry Browne Freedom
« Reply #17 on: May 15, 2013, 12:00:09 PM »
Quote
at any rate, a lot of what keeps me going is knowing that in the years to come i will be able to look myself in the mirror and feel good about how i was able to be there for my grandma in this time. if i left her on her own, i think it would haunt me.

Maybe it's because today's the anniversary of my mom's death, but this really resonates with me.  I often felt burdened and frustrated during the last ten years of my mother's life while my brother skipped along merrily through various misadventures, and it took a while for me to work through these feelings.  But I'm glad I was able to be there for my mother.  She was my mom, for fuck's sake!   And I am confident that my son will help me when I'm old and frail rather than discarding me because I've outlived my usefulness to him. 

(FTR, my idea of helping any relative does not include enabling.  I learned that one the hard way!)