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What does "free" mean?

free%20gift.jpgI belong to our local freecycle network in which you can advertise items you are giving away for free or pick up other items people are offering for free. It's a simple idea and, for the most part, well executed. But lately there's been a controversy.

A person on our list noticed that something she gave away showed up on Craig's List. She was "very disappointed" and left the network.

I understand her disappointment, but this got me to thinking, when you give something to someone for "free" what does this mean? Does the giver have any reasonable expectation to say how the thing will be used or not used? What if the item was used for awhile - a month, a year, a decade - and then sold or given away? Would that make a difference? Is this any different than someone buying something and then turning around and selling it for more, as many people do at estate and garage sales? Does it make a difference that these two people are only related through this transaction? What if she gave something to a close friend or family member and then it showed up on Craig's List, would that be different?

These are all honest questions and something I've been thinking about this morning. I can see both sides of this issue, honestly. What do you think?


That is pretty interesting. I think that often when we give something away we feel that we still retain control over its use: I gave it to you for free, you should do the same when you no longer want it.

But without those stipulations up front -free but not without conditions - I think it's improper to try and impose conditions after the fact. Creative Commons anticipated this impulse and made ideas/music/writing/art/etc. free, but with conditions (alter with permission, do not use in something you charge for, give credit, completely open, etc.). The government did not think ahead enough to say this money is specifically for these debts; don't give bonuses and now they're upset because their good will is not being put to a use they approve.
Sorry if I blew this out of proportion by avoiding the specific freecycle ethics, but I see it as a large consideration that what we freely give is not always given freely.

Tried to tweet you back on this but they are way over capacity I guess. Two thoughts. The first one is that if you give something away it is gone. I gave a car to a junkyard and it doesn't bother me that they will try to sell it because I am grateful that they took it off my hands. SECONDLY, I have noticed that in the swap shop section of the DNT it seems like some of the adds are just a laundry list of stuff people want to get rid of and then they come up with a hyper specific thing to trade for plus a "or ?" I think that the "or ?" is just a veiled attempt at saying that it's actually for sale and they are taking advantage of the free ad. Just a suspicion, mind you. But a strong one.

I agree that if you give it away, you should let it go. If someone is enterprising enough to sell it, so be it. Perhaps next time, you might want to sell your item yourself. Plenty of people run businesses in which they buy things cheaply (auctions, rummage sales, etc), then resell them for a profit--I see nothing wrong with that. Several people on our freecycle ask for broken appliances, etc., to fix, and I assume they resell some of them Also, you could assume that perhaps the person didn't ask for the item with the intent of reselling it--they just realized that it wasn't for them, and decided that they would get rid of it on Craigslist--maybe they needed the money more than the freecycle lady. I can understand that her expectations were violated, and that she feels used, but perhaps by giving this person the item to sell, she actually helped them more than the use of the item itself would.

I'm on freecycle here--I've given away baby items, clothes, and Christmas decorations--I see it as a way of being benevolent. But our main freecycle issue is "sob stories." We are always getting reminders to just post the item, because the storytellers are always trying to one-up each other.

(btw, from what I can tell, those bonuses were part of those individuals' contracts--making them debts. Not just woo-hoo money. And wouldn't those people just spend (some) of that money and pump it back into the company? I'm not quite getting it...at the root of it seems to be some resentment that some people make a crap-load of money, when most people, including us, are wondering if their more modest worldly dreams are turning into nightmares. But why should I begrudge them that money? What does that say abt me? Nothing really good. Actually, if I am going to be incensed at my tax dollars being wasted, the govt gives me plenty more reasons besides any bailout package. Just sayin.)

There has been a new freecycle post where the accused woman defends her actions.She says she was not guilty of selling the items she received for free..Personally I think the freecycle site is full of angry people. There are always posts of people angry about how others treated them about picking up an item, or not showing up..I have had nothing but good experiences with the freecycle and really could care less about what someone does with an item I have given away. I am usually just happy to be rid of the item.

This entire discussion, by the way, plays out in a theological/spiritual way as well. I hear very similar discussions about the nature of grace among colleagues. It's just as messy and complicated.

You're right. I think it is hard for us to grasp that, while God has behavioral expectations of us, we neither deserve nor earn salvation.

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