Offers Not Obligations

09 April 2021

An idea I’ve been reflecting on a lot recently is that of Offers vs Obligations.

When I suggest to a friend that we catch up (almost exclusively on Zoom at the moment for CoVID reasons) I’ve become aware of different interpretations. Some interpret this as a an offer “Hey, if it works for you, let’s sort out a time to catch up”, while others interpret it as an obligation “Hey, I’ve just added a new todo item for you to schedule with me”.

I really like the idea of communicating the distinction, especially around social requests and interactions.

A few years ago I had a penpal where we would write long emails back and forth between each other, but what I realized was, because it was essentially our only interaction, it slipped into a mutual recognition of only writing when we felt like it, only writing when it was enjoyable. Sometimes that meant we’d reply back and forth several times a day, and sometimes that meant we’d spend weeks living our lives before getting back to it. This felt very much an offer based interaction.

I can also recall telling a friend that a few of us were going to see a movie, only to be inundated with a series of extremely apologetic messages about how they wished they could make it, and how they knew I’d already invited them to something else which they’d also declined, and they were going to make it next time. This felt very much an obligation based interaction.

There are times when either makes sense. If I went to an event on the basis that a friend is giving me a lift back home, and it’s now closing time, my asking to be let into the car as they prepare to drive away is definitely an obligation request. Along similar lines, when your boss at work asks you to do something, it’s very much an obligation as well.

But most of the time, at least for me personally, I aim for most of my invites and suggestions to be seen as offers, rather than obligations. It feels particularly nice to add positive experiences to a person’s life by including someone, but a lot of this magic is lost if they’re participating because they feel like they have to.

I can think of a example however when I did the opposite. when planning my Funeral I invited my friends and stressed to them that this was extremely important to me and I really wanted their attendance. It’s important in my mind that you really only do this when a particular invite is really significant. If you’re constantly giving out obligations, it’s unlikely to be well received by your friends.

Ultimately it’s much more validating to know that someone is interacting/writing/meeting/zooming because it’s what they’re excited to do rather than they feel they have to.

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