“Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbour”

To facilitate this interaction, just print, clip out, and display the above sign on your front door to let the neighbours know you’re there in a (and for a) pinch.

I wrote a column for this month’s issue of YES! Magazine that caught firelast week. I thought I’d be anointed Captain Obvious for declaring that borrowing is important. But I guess lots of things are all at once deeply obvious and totally revelatory. Smoked cheddar, for example.

The piece was about the broader implications of borrowing. It’s not just the planetary necessity of each of us not owning a personalized drill we’ll use for 15 seconds a year, but the bonds you build when you feel comfortable asking a neighbour for an egg, or a push-up bra. Despite trying to live the Buyerarchy of Needs, my default is to not want to bother people. My husband can Amazon Prime something in the time it takes me to mull which neighbour might own a purple tutu (Oonagh?), or a power tool (Dylan!). But over the past few years I’ve forced myself to ask for things. To become a borrower. And to try to borrow thoughtfully and reciprocally. The results have been modestly magical.

People want to share. And they want their stuff to be of use. We’re reciprocal creatures. Yes, this is another behavioural science tangent: I could write a book on reciprocity, my favourite social norm, but it’s an almost universally felt human impulse to create circles of back and forth help. It’s like hot potato, but the hot potato is a nice thing you can do for someone else, and not a scalding tuber. There’s nothing more satisfying than receiving a borrowed item back from a neighbour, alongside some thank-you cookies and the knowledge that together you saved the world from another gratuitous purchase. Plus, you get to eat cookies.

The term Social Capital has become buzzworthy of late because it moves in parallel with growing inequality. Loosely, our social capital is the network of humans we can rely on to help us. Wealthier people have armies of loose connections they’d feel comfortable leaning on for a favour or three. Less wealthy people, not so much. It was not always thus. Impoverished communities once had fantastic social capital (some still do), with neighbours and friends pitching in with childcare and casseroles. But as we’ve become a society of overworked loners, the people who suffer most from a diminishment of social capital are the ones who really need it.  

I know that borrowing sugar won’t solve climate change, but I do feel its importance is bigger than we realize. And writ large, all that borrowing does add up. Like all the peanut M&Ms I eat. Good neighbours make good neighbourhoods, which make good cities, which make good countries, which make good planets. One by one by one by one by a million. I hope you have a beautiful borrowful week!