Good Advice, Unlikely Sources

I have not always been the font of wily wisdom that I now am ( snicker). Following grad school, I found myself in a bind and needed some nonconventional advice. My father had died two years previously. With truly vast life experience, he had been my go-to source for guidance- which I did not automatically follow, but to which I listened. With my dad out of the picture, I sought out one of my uncles. Being the nature of the problem involved some potential violence he deferred to my other “uncle.” He was their first cousin with whom they had been so close to that he was my uncle. I called him up, not sure why Uncle Lenny was telling me to call him. 

Briefly, a neighbor was making physical threats, and the situation would soon pass the boiling point. I’m not afraid of a fight one on one. But, this person was threatening to get some organized crime folks after me.

I soon found out that my uncle was “connected” with an equivalent organization in Queens ( New York City). On finding out, I responded, ” So that’s why you went away for three years!” His reply- “Hmmm.” I told him what was happening, and he offered to make some calls. The next day he called back to say that “certain people had been called,” and the neighbor was a nobody with no connections. Breathing a sigh of relief, I went ahead and rhetorically asked what would be involved in getting my neighbor into an accident. It was at this point that my uncle gave me this advice. He said: ” When you ask for something like that you ask for one favor. But, you repay it a thousand times.” 

About a decade later, I was working as an anthropologist in an urban community near Boston. I was having a problem with a cantankerous city Alderman who kept on threatening my job. I went to a sympathetic alderman with whom I was friendly. I asked him if he could talk to his colleague on my behalf. Here’s what he said:” When you ask for something like that you ask for one favor. But, you repay it a thousand times.”

After hearing the same advice from oddly different sources, I now know that favors often come with prices attached that you can’t repay. You never are free of the obligation. They are a sort of equivalent to “be careful what you ask for; you might get it”. The answers posed a thought experiment. How come the responses from a politician and a person who was “connected” were identical.

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