Margaret Attwood's op-ed piece from the NY Times, A Matter of Life and Debt, (21 October 2008) is an interesting item about what debt and credit mean to the people involved. I like her notion that it is people and a sense of fairness that makes it work at all.
I was particularly taken by her discussion of fairness and what happens when the contract is broken (emphasis mine).
Once you start looking at life through these spectacles, debtor-creditor relationships play out in fascinating ways. In many religions, for instance. The version of the Lord’s Prayer I memorized as a child included the line, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” In Aramaic, the language that Jesus himself spoke, the word for “debt” and the word for “sin” are the same. And although many people assume that “debts” in these contexts refer to spiritual debts or trespasses, debts are also considered sins. If you don’t pay back what’s owed, you cause harm to others.
This is a key aspect of interpersonal relationships. If I break a promise to you, not only do I look bad, but it harms you. You expect less of me. You may even expect less of others in a similar situation. And that decreases your ability to pursue your own happiness. While this may seem obvious, much of the discussion around this topic suggests that the person who breaks the promise is injured with little discussion about the other person (or organization) in question.
I think there is a parallel here with one of my favorites: Whenever I am upset, I am in the wrong. This is regardless of the cause.
[via Dave Snowden]