Barking Deer


Dear Ezra and Lian,

Here’s a life lesson for you. Even when you are helping someone, let them preserve their dignity. Remember when I told you why I don’t lend money? Well, if you gave someone something for free, it is important that they can pay you back. Even if they don’t owe you anything or you feel like you should take any payback, take it. Don’t let the recipients of your kindness walk around for the rest of their lives, feeling inferior for not giving anything back. Take it graciously and with gratitude. Give them a way to balance the scales. Remember, it’s NOT helping someone if you destroy all their self-worth and motivation to wake up in the morning. When your help ends, they need to carry on. Help them to persevere when you are gone.

Here’s a little story about that.

We had taken a boatload of rice to Samuksury (The Place of the Snails). There are no roads to the village. There’s only a footpath or a small river from Tlabung, near the Bangladesh border. The people there were in desperate shape. Those still well enough, had travelled up to 9 kilometres each way into the jungle looking for wild yams. The millions of rats in Mizoram during mautam couldn’t smell them or dig deep enough to eat the yam roots. For tens of thousands of who only ate what they could grow, this was the only food they had. The rats ate everything else. Oranges, bananas, rice, potatoes; it didn’t matter.

Some elderly people were lying in their beds waiting to die from starvation. Many were losing their eyesight because of the poor nutrition of their diet. They couldn’t see well enough to find yams in the jungle. I interviewed many of them to find out what was happening. They told me about burying their children in the days and weeks previous. Their faces would later appear on Canadian television.

When we started distributing food, 1 “tin” or 9 gallons of rice per family (a ridiculously small amount of food in the midst of a famine) people had such a dejected look on their faces. Many of the men of the village were too embarrassed to even appear with their families. Mostly women and children came to receive the food. As much as possible, we had the residents of the village help with the distribution process. Later, just before we left, the women of the village presented me and my Canadian friends with beautiful hand-woven skirts for my wife. I wished that they had sold the skirts in the market to buy food, but I thanked them profusely.

That evening, the missionaries and villagers cooked a special fest for us. They had hiked the many miles to buy food at the market for us. I felt so bad that they had gone to such expense and trouble to feed us. We were there to feed them. Why couldn’t they just accept our free gift? I was about to feel a lot more guilty. One of the things they bought at the market was Barking Deer meat. It is somewhat rare there. At the time, I thought it was an endangered species. I felt like I was contributing to the possible disappearance of a beautiful animal. As I ate it, I whispered under my breath, “Dear God, forgive me.” Barking Deer tastes so good. Indian Muntjac (Muntiacus vaginalis) is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. I felt so guilty for eating and enjoying it. I ate two plates of barking deer and rice. I ate until I couldn’t eat any more.

In all of this, eating the food prepared for us, cherishing the gifts given us, enlisting the help of the village people, requesting a song from the village (sung with gusto), I hope the people of Samuksury could feel our love and respect for them. They were not losers. A natural disaster had fallen on them. It didn’t reflect on them at all. When the rats were gone, they would be able to provide for their families again. We were only there to help them reach that day.

Whenever you help someone, you have a duty to make sure your help doesn’t make someone’s life worse.

Love, Dad

Brad Continued


Dear Ezra and Lian,

To paraphrase Yoda, “Give or give not, there is no lend.” One thing you will never see me do, is lend someone money. When you are old enough to borrow money, I will not make an exception for you two either. If you are worth lending money, then you are obviously worth giving money. If someone else is a bad risk and you wouldn’t give them money, then why would you lend them money? This is also the same reason why I either give big or I don’t give at all. People and causes are either worth supporting sacrificially or they are worth avoiding completely.

Don’t ever bother asking me to lend you money. Either you didn’t save enough or earn enough to deserve what you want. If you don’t have enough confidence to ask for a gift, then either your character is bad enough that you are not worth investing in or this object is not worth buying. I hope this will cause you to learn to earn and to save. I have hope you will pursue good character and good things.

I live by this principle for two reasons. First, I was given it as advice. Now, I give this same advice to others and it has helped all of them. It keeps people out of bad situations. The worry of collecting on debts or the fear of paying them back is removed. It is liberating. Secondly, more importantly and sadly, I received this advice too late. I went through a painful experience that helped me see the value in giving, rather than lending money. Let me share that story with you.

Remember Brad; the guy I watched get beat up as I drove away from him? A few weeks or months after that, Brad asked me to lend him some money. He needed a deposit for first and last month’s rent for a new apartment. I think part of the reason was because his old landlord was afraid after the violence on their front lawn. It probably was closer to a new job Brad had started and he didn’t drive or have any vehicle.

Partially out of guilt, partially because I wanted to help a guy get up on his own two feet and start a new life, I quickly said yes. Despite me being a young guy, I had a great paying job. It wasn’t that big a deal to lend him about $700. I soon wished I hadn’t done that.

The months went by. Brad never gave me any of the money back. He started avoiding me. I am pretty sure he lost his job somehow. I think he got some other debts to pay and those guys would send people to beat you up if you didn’t pay them back.

One time, I saw Brad and he saw me. He literally turned around and quickly walked away into the crowd. I was left standing there, wondering what just happened. I wanted to run after him, but I didn’t know where he went. I wanted to tell him that his debt was forgiven. He didn’t have to pay me back.

Brad disappeared from my life. He moved away without telling me. I don’t think our mutual friends and contacts even knew where he went. I can’t even remember his last name now. I lost a friend because I lent him money. He was too embarrassed to ever again see or talk to me. He probably felt guilty or that I would yell at him about the money. I didn’t care about the money. I would have given it to him from the beginning if he had just asked for it as a gift.

If Brad ever reads this letter, I hope he knows that he doesn’t owe me anything. His debt was forgiven about 22 years ago. He’s also the main reason I have never lent money to anyone since. I will never lend money because I don’t want to lose any more friends over it. Kids, I love you and I will never let money or debts get in the way of our relationship. So, I give or I give not, there is no lend.