Growing up, my father had a few mantra that he would repeat over and over again for my sister and me. One of them was:
Always return things to the way you found them
When I would borrow my Dad’s tools to take a part something (hopefully something that was approved for disassembly), he would always want me to put back his tools exactly the way he found them. It wasn’t enough to put them back in an orderly fashion — he wanted them the way they were. As a child, I thought this was a little unreasonable — I mean, sometimes I would put them back so they looked nice and organized. As an adult, I realize that when you lend something to someone, there’s an expectation that you return it just as it was. A few years ago, I lent someone a video game console that I wasn’t using. It was a gift to me, and I took good care of it — I had owned it for several years and still had the original box, the instructions, and all the cables. I didn’t think to tell my buddy the condition I wanted it back in, I thought that was implied in loaning it. I was wrong — I got it back in working condition, but some of the cables I needed were missing (apparently he didn’t need them) and the box was gone. Part of me was frustrated because he didn’t take good care of something I loaned him. Another part of me was frustrated at myself because I didn’t explicitly state “I want all of this back in the same condition I’m loaning it to you.” Driving home, I realized that my dad was on to something with his lesson — I hope that as an adult, I take good care of the things people loan me, whether it’s a computer, a piece of luggage, or their home when I visit, etc. As a child, I thought my dad was just annoying particular about his stuff. As an adult, I realize that he was (sometimes annoyingly) particular, but he was also teaching me to respect other people’s things — something I appreciate much more now that I borrow things that are much more valuable and have things of my own to loan others. Mark Twain was on to something with this:
When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.