The best things in life are not things. Good health, a pain free day, enough food and comfortable shelter are all so much more important. Feeling safe, cared for and loved will provide more contentment than any number of possessions. Yet, it is still so hard not to feel possessive of the things we own.
I love to read good books; I have had some interesting discussions with friends about what makes a book good. I have many bookshelves full of books that I have enjoyed and that I enjoy sharing with others. I lend books out to friends regularly. A physical book is, generally, a low value and easily replaceable item. I often buy my books second hand as I do not need them to be in pristine condition. I have avoided moving to an ebook reader as I wish to be able to share my books around. Why then do I feel irritation when one is not returned? Surely it is better that a book be read than that it gather dust on a bookshelf.
I recently noticed that a few of my much enjoyed books had gone. I remember lending some of them out so approached the lady I thought I had leant them to and asked if she had them. She did not. She had another book of mine and had borrowed one of the missing volumes at another time but returned it. As I lend my books out widely and regularly they could be with any number of people. I felt a sense of embarrassment at having asked for their return. I felt petty and mean, especially when I realised that I had approached the wrong person.
I am as much annoyed by the irritation I feel at the loss of these possessions as about the loss itself. I try to be a generous and giving person and do not wish to concern myself about a few books that I have leant out and that can easily be replaced. When I have finished with some item; toys that my children have outgrown, books that I have read but not enjoyed or clothes that will no longer be worn but that are still in good condition; I gain pleasure from passing them on to someone who will benefit from them. A number of my friends use sites such as ebay to raise money from such things. I have sold a few, small bits and pieces, but found that I gained more satisfaction from passing on freely than from the small sums I raised through sales. When I have expressed this view I have been accused of not appreciating that others have more need of the money than I. Whatever the truth of this, I would not wish to try to influence others behaviour. If they derive satisfaction (and useful money!) from selling items then that is good. I derive satisfaction from giving things away, but only I guess when I have finished with the items myself.
My feeling of loss over a few books cannot be explained in purely monetary terms. In lending out a possession we show trust in the borrower; we show that we wish to share what we have with them. When I have borrowed from a friend I have taken especially good care not to cause damage. Perhaps some of the irritation that can arise from such acts of kindness is in the unknown differences in how a person values an item. There are books that I have leant out that I would happily give away; I do not require them back. There are other, much loved tomes, that I am lending out because I wish to share the enjoyment; I would wish this book to be returned. I cannot expect a borrower to know the difference.
One of my friends keeps a notebook in which she writes down who she lends a book to and when. She also writes her name in her books. Perhaps if the loss of a few books irritates me then I should follow her example. I would prefer, however, to just get over my possessiveness. Good things should be shared and I want to continue to pass on the joy of reading a good book. I wish to cultivate a more generous spirit and not be mean and petty with my possessions.
It is the things that we do not own and cannot replace that have a true value. Our possessions only have a value in the pleasure that we derive from them; it is the pleasure that is of value rather than the thing. Today I will sort through my bookshelves and try to work out which of my books are missing. If I regret their loss then I will replace them. I will remember how fortunate I am that I can do this. I will continue to lend out my favourite books and hope that the pleasure that I derived from reading them can be shared. I will strive to improve myself by cultivating a more generous spirit. How much richer our world would be if all could manage to be just that little bit more giving, not of things, but of themselves.