Subsidizing the hobbies of our friends and family members is one of the things that separate us from the animals. Raccoons do not shell out cash for covers and a two-drink minimum to support other raccoons as they try out wobbly stand-up routines in rooms that haven’t seen natural light since 1978. Elephants do not have to promise to bring 15 other elephants in exchange for getting to play with their new band at 11:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night. Gazelles do not make their fellow gazelles climb five flights of stairs to see their off-off-Broadway show debut on a makeshift stage in front of rows of folding chairs.
This is largely because animals lack hobbies beyond food, sex, and survival. Even the love social mammals have for each other extends only as far as being able to eat bugs out of each other’s fur. Humans are tied to each other through webs far more complex: You are my Facebook friend because I met you at a party one time and your boyfriend and my boyfriend had a great conversation about how they both used to play “Magic: The Really Slow-Moving Card Game.” Or maybe we went to college together, although we only talked a couple of times and I was jealous that you did better on your honors exams than I did. Now you assertively promote your events on Facebook, inviting everyone you know to every performance you have, and then refer to those events in your status updates and on your Twitter feed. Maybe I’ve made it, somehow, onto your email list so I receive weekly updates as well.
My responsibility to you is unclear. If you are a performing artist of any kind, I could enjoy your show, but what if you are a running a marathon—do I still need to throw some dollars into the hat? Is my responsibility greater if you are running it for a Good Cause, i.e., something bigger your leg muscles and Type-A Personality gratification? What if that cause is Komen-sponsored: am I still obligated to donate, and if so, is it wrong for me to include a lecture on pink-washing? (No, not that kind of pink-washing.)
Especially in an age of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, where everyone’s giving becomes public knowledge, can I resist donating to your album, your book, your album-book combo, your documentary film, your travels to India, even if I, like Dick Cheney, have other priorities? What if you say you don’t keep track but secretly you keep a color-coded Excel spreadsheet? Do I need to contribute in order to stay friends with you? And if so, is that extortion or just the everyday business of relationships in the modern age?
I don’t want to be a Scrooge-y, Jacob Marley-type person. I want to be generous, partly because I love you*, partly because giving is good for the soul, and partly because maybe someday I too may want to try being funny in public, or long-distance racing, or running for public office. But let’s say I am also of limited means, or that I’d prefer to spend my discretionary funds on the entertainment I choose for myself. What are my variegated responsibilities as an acquaintance / coworker / friend / good friend / sister? As a 22-year-old vs. as a 30-year-old? As a waitress vs. as a corporate lawyer? Does it matter how talented you are at what you’re trying to do? How much?
Really, I am curious. There are no set standards for this from what I can tell, and this issue comes up time and time again. It would be useful to have a framework, some sort of budget to work from. So let’s lay down some ground rules! Tell us, Internet:
A) HOW MUCH IS FAIR TO ASK FRIENDS, FAMILY MEMBERS, COWORKERS, ETC., TO CHIP IN TO SUPPORT YOUR ENDEAVORS?
1) Whatever I want to ask. I believe in myself and hopefully they do too. They can say no if they want—it’s a free country.
2) Up to $200. Hey, maybe some of them have trust funds, who knows?
3) Up to $50. More than that and I’d feel greedy but up to $50 is like a birthday present, or them picking up the bar tab. Totally fair between friends.
4) Nothing. I am horrified by the idea of asking anyone for anything. Possibly I have no self-esteem.
B) HOW MUCH IS FAIR TO ASK FAMILY MEMBERS?
1) Family members are no different than friends. Ask away! They’ll refuse if they want to.
2) Family members are better to hit up for money than friends. They’re blood! Often they love you and want to see you succeed and/or get laid.
3) Family members are totally worse! Are you kidding? The guilt, the follow-up questions at Thanksgiving, having to feel accountable to them …. No way.
4) Nothing. I am horrified by the idea of asking ANYONE for anything, even family, and it’s probably their fault I have no self-esteem.
C) DO YOU SUPPORT YOUR FRIENDS, FAMILY MEMBERS, COWORKERS, ETC., IN THESE WAYS?
1) Always! As much and as often as I can. Money is for sharing, and it’s great for people to be passionate about things; it’s worth it to me to help friends out. Besides, I enjoy seeing what my friends can do!
2) Sometimes, if I am independently interested in the event or cause, or if I’m really close to the friend, or if the friend is actually talented.
3) Sometimes, as long as they support me too when it’s my turn.
4) Never. If you’re not good enough to get strangers to subsidize your hobbies, why should I?
Thanks for weighing in and for helping to settle this question once and for all!
NOTE: Naturally, once you are famous, I will be SO EXCITED to know you. I will say that I always had faith in you. And I will ask you for comps. I will have been picking the bugs out of your fur for a long time by then; it will be time for you to pick one or two out of mine.