“There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”. This saying is not only a saying I use pretty regularly, inside my head at least, but it also marks one of my tributes to an author who has influenced me very greatly – Robert Heinlein. I have read all of Heinlein’s novels and a great deal of his short stories. This saying no matter how you shake it is true. “Free” is really a misleading term. Everything we achieve or get has some sort of price tag to it. This is true even if we didn’t pay it. When you get a ‘free’ anything someone else has paid the price for it. It cost the restaurant for that free meal. Those food stamps that allow you to get food, a taxpayer paid for. Truth is, there is no such thing as free.
This is a hard pill for some people to swallow but the philosophy that nothing is ever free will do two things for you. 1) It will cause you to appreciate the person who actually paid the price for you to have something ‘free’. It should lead to gratitude and a lack of envy or jealousy. 2) it will make you less of a mooch and more of a worker so that when you gain something through work you appreciate it and value it. Thinking things should be free is a great way to be a freeloader and a person who wastes what is ‘free’.
One of my greatest moments when I heard someone else say “Tanstaafl” was when I was working at Wal-Mart in the meat department. I routinely saw people taking advantage of the system but one day I saw a man and woman who were truly disabled working their way through the aisles. I marveled that they had a calculator and were carefully tracking their spending. I couldn’t resist and asked them why they were doing so since it was obvious they were on some sort of help. The guy responded ‘Tanstaafl’. He went on to explain that he understood others had paid taxes so he could eat. He had once ben a hard-working man and his wife too until they were both injured in a car crash. His response was to get on the system but he was going to make sure that whatever he received went as far as it could go. He then told me he would pay it back someday when he was working again and that is why he was going back to school. His wife chimed in with the same. I respected both of them and when I would see them again I would say ‘Tanstaafl” and ask them how they were doing. One day hey just stopped coming and I heard they had gotten jobs they could do.
I think knowing that all things have a price is just good way to deal with people. Favors should be paid back or paid forward if there is no way to pay it back. It is when you respect people enough to know they paid a price for your ‘free’ whatever that you got, that you want to make he most of it and live a life a gratitude that “Tanstaafl” has its full effect.