Do We Really Mean What We Say?

Sheila - Bensalem, Pennsylvania
Entered on June 5, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: integrity

Has anyone ever asked you, “Can I borrow a pencil?” “Can I borrow a sheet of paper?” or better yet, “Can I borrow some money?” Of course they have. We all know what it’s like to be asked if someone could “borrow” something. I have been asked questions like these not once, but on several occasions. I believe when people say can I borrow they should mean what they say. Yet the word “borrow” is used loosely.

When I think about it, it sounds mindless for me to say “can I borrow a pencil” or can “I borrow a piece of paper?” The two cannot be equated in the same way as borrowing money. People usually don’t expect me to return a piece of paper that is written on, or the pencil they gave me to use in class. However, they are expecting me to return the money that I borrowed.

Just the other day, I walked into the company building where I work. I sat on top of the brown table that holds the microwave and coffeemaker. I looked out the window. I thought to myself, “what a miserable day because of the rain.” Janine, who reminds me of a wild-haired woman leftover from the sixties, interrupted my thought. She was making a cup of coffee. As she stirred the creamer into her coffee, she casually said, “Sheila, can I borrow a dollar?” to buy a bottle of water. She gave me a long explanation why she didn’t have a dollar. I thought to myself that her story sounded just as wild as her hair, but strangely enough she failed to mention when I could expect this nominal amount of money to be repaid. I knew what she meant because the word borrow has been abused and worn out with me. I hear this phrase misused so many times. I am now conditioned to believe when a person says “can I borrow” they mean can I give to them. I reached into my purse. I took out a dollar, and made the conscious decision to give and not loan her the money.

I try to be a model of my belief. I am guilty at times of not having enough money at the vending machine, and turning to a coworker and asking them, “can I borrow twenty-five cents.” However, it is important to me to make a point, as soon as I come in contact with that person, to give them the twenty-five cents that I borrowed. Once they get over the initial shock of me returning the money, I hear them say, “Oh it was just twenty-five cents.” Yes I tell them “you’re right.” Then I explain the difference. I asked if I could borrow, and not could I have.

I have learned when people say” can I borrow”, it is not used in the traditional sense. It is left open for that person and me to interpret what “borrowing” means to each of us. For most people there are things that we borrow, which is implied won’t be returned. Therefore, I believe when we borrow a concerted effort should be made to follow through with the initial arrangement, under which we “borrowed”, regardless of how of big or small.