Ayn Rand : Worst Aunt? How about BEST MENTOR EVER?

If I had an aunt like Ayn Rand, I’d have not grown up to feel guilty.

It is no secret that I am a great fan of Ayn Rand’s writing and especially of Fountainhead. The philosophy that Rand invented, Objectivism, is by all means a collection of ideas that I feel compelled to agree with, because of my volition.

So I was very curious and a little offended when I came across an article called AYN RAND, WORST AUNT EVER: READ HER LETTER TO HER 17-YEAR-OLD NIECE (that’s right. The author was so confident that they used the exponential weapons of syntax, the bold and BLOCK LETTERS!)

Now, I don’t have the delusions that Rand was the easiest person to live with. Definitely not. There are a thousand ways and then some in which she would make you rip your hair out. Least of all, the way she perceived money.

Should you feel compelled to read the article and the letter included to her niece Connie, a 17- year old kid (I use the word kid loosely here. Let’s face it, no matter what decade, teens are hardly kids) who wants to borrow 25$ for a dress.

Now in the letter, Rand proposes that this will not be a simple act of lending the money and forgetting it. Rand was a staunch rationalist. And more importantly, she was someone who firmly believed that every penny you spend is an important investment, no matter how poor or rich you are. (This appeals to me for dual reasons of being a fan and being a minimalist.)

Here are Rand’s conditions about the transaction:

If you really want to borrow $25 from me, I will take a chance on finding out what kind of person you are. You want to borrow the money until your graduation. I will do better than that. I will make it easier for you to repay the debt, but on condition that you understand and accept it as a strict and serious business deal.Before you borrow it, I want you to think it over very carefully.
Here are my conditions: If I send you the $25, I will give you a year to repay it. I will give you six months after your graduation to get settled in a job. Then, you will start repaying the money in installments: you will send me $5 on January 15, 1950, and $4 on the 15th of every month after that; the last installment will be on June 15, 1950 — and that will repay the total.
Are you willing to do it?

The author has bolded the sentences which they think depict how Rand is the “worst aunt ever” throughout the letter. Which I don’t mind. It’s the opinion of one author. It is valid. But I do feel compelled to ask, why is this a clear sign of Rand being a difficult relative? If anything, this sounds like a person who has found a chance to teach something about the importance of money to a youngster. I mean come on, look at the terms here!

  1. She clarifies the duration of the loan (until Connie’s graduation.)
  2. She provides a simple, clear breakdown of payments (5$ on first month, 4$ per month for next five months, thus paying the total amount).
  3. She provides a clear date on which the payments are to be made. (15th of Each month.)
  4. And she ASKS (that’s right! I can do it too!) Connie if she is willing to do it. It’s not like she has put forth the decree that this is the only way. (The reason why I mention this becomes clear at the end of the letter which I’ll talk about below.)

I see absolutely no problem with these terms and conditions. Very clear, very fair. I wish as a child I had someone who could have instilled these questions me. Sure, I would grumbled a lot. And I would have thrown a lot of tantrums about why is everything supposed to be so boring and businesslike. But I’d also have learned that money isn’t just a boon of life. It does not come freely and it certainly does not stay. That it always comes with terms and boundations.

Further more, Rand goes on to clearly state her reasons and rationale behind this proposal:

Now I will tell you why I am so serious and severe about this. I despise irresponsible people. I don’t want to deal with them or help them in any way. An irresponsible person is a person who makes vague promises, then breaks his word, blames it on circumstances and expects other people to forgive it. A responsible person does not make a promise without thinking of all the consequences and being prepared to meet them.
You want $25 for the purpose of buying a dress; you tell me that you will get a job and be able to repay me. That’s fine and I am willing to help you, if that is exactly what you mean. But if what you mean is: give me the money now and I will repay it if I don’t change my mind about it — then the deal is off. If I keep my part of the deal, you must keep yours, just exactly as agreed, no matter what happens.

Does this sound harsh? Sure. Is it realistic? Absolutely. Take a look at our current generation and tell me Rand would be wrong to place such cynicism upon us. We excel at ambiguity. We talk of inclusion but more and more, we skirt every possible issue in the name of political correctness and shrug accountability. The era of clean cold hard words is dead. Hemingway is dead. All words are now bound only by how prone the listener is to misunderstand and get offended by what we say.

Rand makes it clear that since her lending the money is a clear action, then Connie has to make a clear decision to act on her side of the deal too. Yes, Rand puts it in an exceedingly cold manner. That is precisely because she wants Connie to learn the lesson. You don’t make empty promises. You don’t give your word that you cannot keep as is. There is no editing in comitmments. As King Baldwin states in my favorite movie Kingdom of Heaven:

When you stand before God, you cannot say, “But I was told by others to do thus,” or that virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice. Remember that.

You cannot edit your actions once you've acted. Not to God. Not to your fellow individual. That is the lesson that Rand wants Connie to learn.

I will tell you the reasons for the conditions I make: I think that the person who asks and expects other people to give him money, instead of earning it, is the most rotten person on earth. I would like to teach you, if I can, very early in life, the idea of a self-respecting, self-supporting, responsible, capitalistic person. If you borrow money and repay it, it is the best training in responsibility that you can ever have.

More clear rationale. Fair and just. What is so wrong about taking a chance to teach your young ones to be self supporting and responsible, financially? Don’t we see enough former child stars who’ve gone on to fame and money and only ended up as horrible horrible examples of a human being? I can name several but you already know who we are talking about.

What Rand says next is one of my favorite paragraphs ever. This is one of the best ideas that a person has ever occured and it is high time we realize this.

I want you to drop — if you have it in your mind — the idea that you are entitled to take money or support from me, just because we happen to be relatives. I want you to understand very clearly, right now, when you are young, that no honest person believes that he is obliged to support his relatives. I don’t believe it and will not do it. I cannot like you or want to help you without reason, just because you need the help. That is not a good reason. But you can earn my liking, my interest and my help by showing me that you are a good person.

Absolutely! As the saying goes:

The Blood of the Covenant runs thicker than the Water of the Womb.

Meaning: Those who you choose to make a part of your life are more valuable than those who are a part of your life merely by the happy accident of shared genetics. Being a relative does not mean anything beyond a DNA shared. That is where it ends. Any and all actions are bound to be taken on the basis of reason and rationality. Sure, you can be sentimental. You can love someone. But you cannot place blind faith on someone just because they are a relative. Regardless of relationship, actions are defined by the individuals and in return define the individuals themselves.

Rand ends her letter on a warm albeit still clear and blunt statement that goes as follows:

Now think this over and let me know whether you want to borrow the money on my conditions and whether you give me your word of honor to observe the conditions. If you do, I will send you the money. If you don’t understand me, if you think that I am a hard, cruel, rich old woman and you don’t approve of my ideas — well, you don’t have to approve, but then you must not ask me for help.
I will wait to hear from you, and if I find out that you are my kind of person, then I hope that this will be the beginning of a real friendship between us, which would please me very much.
Your aunt,

It IS clear. Why do you want money if you think they are a bad person? Why do you want to conduct any business if you dislike a person? What possible reason, other than parasitic need and a sentiment of taking advantage, could you state for your hanging on to a hope of benefit while simultaneously insulting someone?

She invites Connie to think about it and let her know. And that if Connie truly decides to accept her terms, it will be a start of real friend between Ayn and her niece who can learn a lot. As can we.

The Author of the original author goes on to justify the bolded, block lettered Headline thus:

I am legitimately curious about whether this girl took the money — I mean, I would have. What risk is there? Alienating a terrible aunt who will probably just ignore you as “punishment”? A later letter suggests Rand thought highly of Connie, which leads me to suspect that she either found the dress funds elsewhere, or perhaps she really did get a job to repay her stern loan shark of an auntie. Rand also says she doesn’t “know” Connie, but I’m willing to bet that’s just Randspeak for, “Sure, we’ve met — but I cannot divine the capitalist contents of your soul.”
Or maybe the name just sounded too much like “Commie,” and Auntie Ayn got extra nervous?

Terrible aunt? Someone who is trying to teach you to be financially and individually responsible and accountable for your actions is a terrible person?

And of course if Rand doesn't know Connie as a person, why the hell would she even give her the money freely? Would you just up and suddenly pay the equivalent of $25 in 1949 (which comes up to $241.75, still not a measly sum!) to any random relative who you don’t talk to? Because if you really would, well, good for you and your generosity but then you lose all right to be offended or even hope that they repay you.

Also that “commie” joke? Seriously? I mean seriously? That’s the best argument you had to finish your piece? Wow.

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