A Christmas Gift for My Daughter

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article was originally published in December, 2002. A previous version
of it was published on December 25, 1966, dedicated to Harry’s
then 9-year-old daughter.

It’s Christmas,
and I have the usual problem of deciding what to give you. I know
you might enjoy many things – books, games, clothes.

But I’m
very selfish. I want to give you something that will stay with you
for more than a few months or years. I want to give you a gift that
might remind you of me every Christmas.

If I could
give you just one thing, I’d want it to be a simple truth that
took me many years to learn. If you learn it now, it may enrich
your life in hundreds of ways. And it may save your having to face
many problems that have hurt people who’ve never learned it.

The truth is
simply this:

No one owes
you anything.


How could such
a simple statement be important? It may not seem so, but understanding
it can bless your entire life.

No one owes
you anything.

It means that
no one else is living for you, my child. Because no one is you.
Each person is living for himself; his own happiness is all he can
ever personally feel.

When you realize
that no one owes you happiness or anything else, you’ll be
freed from expecting what isn’t likely to be.

It means no
one has to love you. If someone loves you, it’s because there’s
something special about you that gives him happiness. Find out what
that something special is and try to make it stronger in you, so
that you’ll be loved even more.

When people
do things for you, it’s because they want to – because
you, in some way, give them something meaningful that makes them
want to please you, not because anyone owes you anything.

No one has
to like you. If your friends want to be with you, it’s not
out of duty. Find out what makes others happy so they’ll want
to be near you.

No one has
to respect you. Some people may even be unkind to you. But once
you realize that people don’t have to be good to you, and may
not be good to you, you’ll learn to avoid those who would harm
you. For you don’t owe them anything either.

Living your

No one owes
you anything.

You owe it
to yourself to be the best person possible. Because if you are,
others will want to be with you, want to provide you with the things
you want in exchange for what you’re giving to them.

Some people
will choose not to be with you for reasons that have nothing to
do with you. When that happens, look elsewhere for the relationships
you want. Don’t make someone else’s problem your problem.

Once you learn
that you must earn the love and respect of others, you’ll never
expect the impossible and you won’t be disappointed. Others
don’t have to share their property with you, nor their feelings
or thoughts.

If they do,
it’s because you’ve earned these things. And you have
every reason to be proud of the love you receive, your friends’
respect, the property you’ve earned. But don’t ever take
them for granted. If you do, you could lose them. They’re not
yours by right; you must always earn them.

My experience

A great burden
was lifted from my shoulders the day I realized that no one owes
me anything. For so long as I’d thought there were things I
was entitled to, I’d been wearing myself out – physically
and emotionally – trying to collect them.

No one owes
me moral conduct, respect, friendship, love, courtesy, or intelligence.
And once I recognized that, all my relationships became far more
satisfying. I’ve focused on being with people who want to do
the things I want them to do.

That understanding
has served me well with friends, business associates, lovers, sales
prospects, and strangers. It constantly reminds me that I can get
what I want only if I can enter the other person’s world. I
must try to understand how he thinks, what he believes to be important,
what he wants. Only then can I appeal to someone in ways that will
bring me what I want.

And only then
can I tell whether I really want to be involved with someone. And
I can save the important relationships for those with whom I have
the most in common.

It’s not
easy to sum up in a few words what has taken me years to learn.
But maybe if you re-read this gift each Christmas, the meaning will
become a little clearer every year.

I hope so,
for I want more than anything else for you to understand this simple
truth that can set you free.

The late Harry Browne, the author of Why
Government Doesn’t Work

and many other books, was the Libertarian presidential candidate
in 1996 and 2000. See his website.

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