“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”


Once upon a time I took my bicycle to a local shop for a minor repair. It required a tool that I didn’t own. I explained the situation to an employee of the store. He crossed his arms and said “We don’t lend tools.”

I thought that perhaps the man hadn’t understood the innocuous nature of my request. I repeated it, only to receive the same, implacable reply: “We don’t lend tools.”

Recalling this episode led me to think about a phrase people often use, but whose origin is unknown to them. It probably won’t surprise that it came from the quill pen of one Wm. Shakespeare. In Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 3, Page 3) Polonius says:

“Neither a borrower not a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of charity. This above all: to thine own self be true.”

Here’s a modern English rendering of the text:

“Don’t borrow money and don’t lend it, since when you lend to a friend, you often lose the friendship as well as the money, and borrowing turns a person into a spendthrift. And, above all, be true to yourself.”

Did you know the phrase refers to money? Neither did I. But let’s put that aside for the purposes of this blog episode. When it came time to unclog a bathroom drainpipe I didn’t have a pipe wrench (pictured above). So I drove to Home Depot and purchased one. With the repair completed I added the wrench to the tool collection in the basement. It would languish in the shadows until – perhaps unless – I had need of it again.

Think for a moment how many items we own, whether tools or other things, that, after addressing a specific task, are shunted aside. Should this trouble us? I am beginning to feel the answer is “yes,” but also believe the living situation common to many Americans mitigate against a solution.

We tend to live in isolation. One outcome of this is the acquisition of what we need in almost a knee-jerk fashion, without considering an alternative availability. Might someone in the neighborhood or in the building have something we could borrow?

Living setups like co-housing offer communal purchase, storage, maintenance and availability of typical hand tools and more expensive devices. While going the whole hog like that may not be the answer for you and me, there are lots of intermediate steps we can take.

For instance, residents of a neighborhood in my town got together and purchased a small tractor, along with the attachments that enable it to clear away snow from sidewalks. People were taught how to operate and maintain the machine. This is an example of cooperatively obtaining a tool that individuals or households cannot afford, and whose use benefits all that invest in it. This is perhaps an unusual example but I think it touches upon the topic.

What do you think?


4 thoughts on ““Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

  1. Rob: The next step seems pretty clear. Put the pipe wrench next to the tractor/snow plow and mark it as belonging to your neighborhood tool cooperative. If others follow your example, soon you (and your neighbors) will have access to a whole tool crib.


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