In the early 1960s, a long-time reader we’re calling Ted was completing a tour of military duty in the Philippines. While on the base, he met a young Filipino woman who had been abused and was raising two children. Ted kept in touch with the young woman who had made her way to the United States where Ted was living.
“Her troubles were endless,” wrote Ted. He shelled out a good bit of money to hire a lawyer to help her get Permanent Residency Status, “money I didn’t have much of as a young guy just starting a career.” After she received permanent residency status, they went their separate ways, got married to other people, and relocated, but Ted has continued to call her occasionally over the past 40 years to see how she is doing and to “give her a chance to share her pain.”
While she always tells Ted of medical, economic, or other challenges she’s facing, she rejects any more offers of help saying “I have done enough already, which my Wife might agree with.”
But trying to do something for her anyway, Ted recently sent her some information on pastels, an old interest of hers, accompanied by a state scratch-off Lottery Ticket. “Since it’s rare for me to play the lottery, I bought a ticket for my wife and me too,” he wrote. “Darned if we didn’t win $30. I doubt my Filipina friend, who needs money a lot more than we do, will win a cent.”
Ted wonders whether he and his wife should view their $30 windfall as “just compensation” for the hours of effort they put into converting Internet information on pastels into a Word document to send to his computer-less friend? “Or should I send her $20, the difference between our winnings and the cost of the two tickets?” he asked. He figures that approach might make the help more “acceptable” to his friend. “After all, I wouldn’t have bought the lottery ticket in the first place if it hadn’t been for her.”
Ted wants to know if I have a better idea of the right thing to do.
While it’s noble of Ted and his wife to continue to show kindness to the woman he met years ago, he doesn’t need to find a way to justify sending a portion of his lottery ticket winnings to her. But since she made clear that she does not want financial help from him by rejecting offers, doing so would go against her wishes.
That he and his wife took the time to send her a note and information on pastels seemed an extension of their long-time friendship. Sure, he stuck a scratch ticket in there as well but it wasn’t an outright sum of cash he sent her way after she asked them not to.
The right thing would be for Ted and his wife to enjoy their lottery winnings, continue to keep in touch with their friend, and to take their lead from her when she might be in need of help and willing to receive it. Then they can decide if they’re willing and able to help.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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