My friend broke my $500 guitar!

Should he have to pay for it?

Our elder helps a letter writer who’s feeling guilty about expecting his friend to foot the bill.

Dear EWC

Last night I had a New Year’s Eve party and it got a little hectic. One of my really close childhood friends accidentally sat on my $500 acoustic guitar, which cannot be repaired due to the severity of the cracks. We’ve pretty much already agreed that he’d pay for it, but I understand it was a very honest mistake. I’m not mad at him, but I feel extreme guilt making him pay $500 for a new guitar, and I know he already doesn’t have much money in the bank, similar to me. Any advice on possible options or actions I can take to lessen the guilt?

Grandpa-Matt replies

Before we get into the emotion of guilt, we need to look at the cause of the feeling in this particular case. You claim the guilt is because of your understanding that he doesn’t have enough funds to take care of the damage right now.

Consider the fact that the guitar was in a spot where it was liable to be damaged by another person. Who was responsible for taking care of the instrument in such a way that it couldn’t have been harmed? Did you allow it to sit around to be exposed to the breakage? This is an important consideration. Your guilt could be about how you contributed to the accident by not taking better care of it. Or it could be about your expecting quick compensation when you know he would have a tough time coming up with the money right now, and that violated the idea of compassionate behavior toward this friend.

The emotion of guilt is always about our behavior. It arises because there has been a violation of an image (or rule or law) that we hold in our mind as an expectation for our own behavior. For example, I should always behave in a way so as to not upset my friends. On occasion, when you do not act that way and feel like you messed up, you might feel the emotion of guilt.
I think the way to fix this is to amend the rule/expectation/image that we hold in our consciousness. It might be like the statement, I should behave in a way to act compassionately toward me and my friends as much and as often as possible. This allows for occasional failure without making us feel guilty for any failures to act that way.

There are some ways to lessen the guilt that you are dealing with. One option is to take responsibility for your part in the event by sharing the expense of replacement in some way. It is not necessarily a 50-50 split, but some percentage that allows some sort of joint accountability. Another option is to offer to have him pay in installments for the value of the guitar. That would also be a compassionate move on your part if you can afford to receive your money in that fashion.

I hope this gives you some food for thought with this problem. Good luck.

Letter #: 452932
Category: Friendship

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