Monday, June 18, 2018

The Case of the Amoral Neighbor

What have we become? So asks Carolyn Hax in the Washington Post when responding to a letter where a woman shows a shockingly amoral cruelty.

The letter writer, K., is facing something of a moral dilemma, one that is entirely of her own making. Her problem is: she has no moral compass. She has descended to the ranks of degenerate money grubbing souls who lack decency or dignity. It has cost her a friend. One suspects that this is not the first friend she has lost.

Hax berates her in the strongest terms. It's not about what is healthy and therapeutic; it's about what constitutes good behavior by a person with character.

K. writes this

Three of us ladies planned a trip to New York for two nights to see shows. We reserved a hotel room to share among us. Train and theater tickets were purchased ahead of time.

Several days before our planned departure, one person backed out because a relative was near death, and she needed to fly across country to be with him. When the remaining two of us asked her to pay her portion of the hotel bill, she refused. She played the "sympathy" card saying she was already out the train and theater tickets as well as the cost of flying to see her relative, and we should have empathy and not expect her to pay her part of the room. We told her we were sorry for her situation, but she had made a commitment and we expected her to honor it. Now she has severed our friendship. How do I handle this? She lives next door!

Of course, honoring your commitments counts among the most important ethical obligations. If you don’t do so, you are not long for polite society. But, treating your neighbor like trash does not make you a good person. Remember the advice: love they neighbor as thyself. Well, K. doesn’t know it or thinks that money is more important.

As Hax points out, circumstances exist where we would never consider requiring anyone to keep their word. If you are laid up in the ER, for having been hit by a truck, no sensible person will hold you to your commitment to attend the recital. No one.

When you need to go back on your word, because of circumstances beyond your control, the person to whom you made the promise, will normally and graciously relieve you of the obligation. It's a duty that correlates with the one that requires you to be good to your word.

K. did not do so. K. is a moral degenerate of the first order.

Hax goes after her:

Do you know how callous you sound?

Is this what we have become? Is it okay now to assume everyone’s working an angle and we all just grab what we can for ourselves?

Your friend was dealing with a relative’s death. Yes, she made a commitment, but a death in the family is widely considered a legitimate excuse. (Top 3! at least.)

Here is how you handle that: “I am so sorry. We’ll miss you. Don’t worry about the hotel, obviously — and let us know what else we can do.” Yes, you got stuck paying more, but you got more space, too. You also had “several days” to try to renegotiate or rebook your room.

Note the last phrase. The ladies do have the opportunity to book another room or to renegotiate the price. Duh. This makes K. an insensitive, uncaring moral basket case.

Hax continues:

You don’t feel bad for her; you feel bad only for you. In fact, feelings came up only because you were annoyed that she asked you to have them.

If you now grasp this and regret it on any level, then walk next door to apologize for letting the battery die on your humanity. I don’t see an apology working unless you mean it, and it might not even if you do, but it’s the right move regardless.

For the record, if I were this neighbor, I would have paid you your third and then severed the friendship just to tie off the ends. But that’s neither here nor there.

Is it not striking that K. feels nothing for the woman’s whose relative is dying? She pays lip service to the calamity the woman is dealing with, but only feels for herself. Perhaps she has done so much therapy that she has become completely self-absorbed and self-involved. 

Hax is correct to recommend a sincere apology, accompanied with something resembling a friendship gift.

But, if Hax were the other woman, she would have paid for the room and ended the friendship. Good advice, accompanied by moral clarity.


Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JPL17 said...

What jumped out at me was this part of the letter:

When the remaining two of us asked her to pay her portion of the hotel bill ...

So it wasn't just the letter writer who thought this behavior was appropriate; there were two of them. What have we become indeed.

Ares Olympus said...

I note Hax didn't call her amoral. Myself, I'd call her a needy person, so less able to put another's legitimate higher needs first.

A likely explanation is this woman (or both) had already over-budgeted. Saying "playing the sympathy card" shows resentment. If you imagine yourself coerced into an agreement that was already stretched, you're less willing to accept excuses.

We're told don't loan money to family or friends, and a promise is an unintended example. Next time "Pay up front" is the obvious answer, although now-a-days when so many people live on credit, it's hard to even know what that means.

Sam L. said...

The two have lost a friend, The one has lost two.

Dan Patterson said...

The odd thing is, that sort of behavior was once not only frowned upon but actively discouraged by parents and authorities. But that was in the days of yore; we are so, so enlightened now. Now, no one reads "To Kill A Mockingbird" (or watches the fine film adaptation). Otherwise we would all have an easy moral lesson learned when a young boy has his embarrassment dampened by a kind act from an adult. Bonus points if you get the reference, and more if I got this one past the blog censor.
Good post with much to comment on.

Dan Patterson said...

Some of us missed the point, I see.
Also quite interesting.

Ares Olympus said...

Sam, what advice would you propose? They didn't lose a friend as much as created a wall with a neighbor who was once friendly, which is a different category of discomfort that will continue for years without someone reaching out in the right way.

Myself, I'd rather forgive a neighbor who is cheap or even predictably selfish than forgive a neighbor who is cruel, like if she builds a wall and tells me I have to pay for it.