Two weeks ago, one of my coworkers got terribly sick. I have a rather good relation with this guy, so he called me and asked if I could pop in on his morning shift, to lend him a hand at preparing things for the night shift. Being the nice guy I am, I cursed at the phone like a sailor, grabbed my stuff, and made my way to work. I spent the entire week doing an extra shift in the mornings with him. His reasons for not taking a sick leave are his alone, and I never asked. By lowering his work load, he managed to slowly recover from illness, and after a week, I went back to my usual schedule. I didn’t give the event a second thought.
Two days ago, this same guy walks up to me, and offers me cash in compensation for my extra work. I asked, and he confirmed my suspicions: this was his own money. I found this utterly insulting, and he didn’t quite understand why.
Where does money come from? From the need to compensate for goods and services. It’s a generic form of compensation that can be used for just about anything. Why do we need a generic form of compensation? Because we don’t know all the people we deal with. If you didn’t have money, how would you compensate your local butcher for that ham you want? How would you buy a car? A house? Your phone bill? Now, compare this to when a friend does something for you. Say he walks over and helps you mow the lawn. In compensation, you offer him a cold beverage and invite him to stay for dinner. Being your friend, he enjoys that beer and food in the good company that you are, and considers it a very much valid compensation. Now, if you were to invite the butcher for dinner, it would most likely be rather awkward, and he’d hardly consider himself compensated for that awesome ham he gave you.
Money is simple. You hand it over to compensate for anything, and things are settled. You don’t need to consider what the other person might find useful in order to compensate him. You don’t need to stop and think about him or his needs. And that’s why it’s rude to pay your friends when they lend you a hand.