Same Advice, Different Sources

I have not always been the font of wily wisdom that I now am ( snicker). I found myself in a bind and needed some nonconventional advice following grad school. 

My father had died 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 uncle Lenny. But because the nature of the problem involved some potential violence, I was referred to my other “uncle.” 

My other “uncle” was a first cousin to my father and uncle Lenny. They had been so close growing up that they had considered themselves to be brothers. So he was, he was my uncle. I called him up, unsure why Uncle Lenny was telling me to call him. 

Briefly, a neighbor of mine 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 threatened 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 nervously, ” 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 giving my neighbor some serious grief. It was then 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 worked as an anthropologist in an urban community near Boston. I was having a problem with a cantankerous city Alderman who kept 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. He said:” When you ask for something like that from a politician, 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 obligation. They are a sort of equivalent to “be careful what you ask for; you might get it.” 

The answers pose a thought experiment. How come the responses from a politician and a person who was “connected” were identical.


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