Rich man's poor friend refuses to accept badly-needed gift. Admirable, stupid, or something else?

Tripolar recently reminded me that I haven’t posted a hypothetical thread in a while, so naturally I felt compelled to correct that. Send your complaints to him. (Although, if you don’t like these, I don’t understand why you opened the thread in the first place.) Anyway…

Today’s story is about Dave and Don, who earlier appeared in the threads linked to by their names. They’re in their mid-forties and have been friends since kindergarten. Don is a self-made millionnaire with more money than Croesus; Dave’s a working joe. Dave and Don are both happily married, and their wives are good friends as well; Don is godfather to Dave’s daughter Ann.

Not all is well in Dave’s world. Both he and his wife, Jenny, lost their jobs in the economic downtur. After months of unemployment, Dave managed to find a much less-well paying job, while Jenny still jobless. Even worse, Ann is very ill. Her medical bills would have been hard to handle even before her parents lost their professional jobs; now they are crippling. Part of the reason Jenny is not working is that she’s had to stay home with Ann, and Dave has had to take on whatever horrid jobs he can get to stave off total disaster.

But wait! you say. What about Don? He’s a zillionaire! Well, yes, that’s true, but he’s also out of the loop. He offered Dave a position at his firm the second the latter lost his job only to be refused; Dave felt that, since he was clearly unqualified in Don’s field, any such position would be a sinecure and thus charity. Thus he and Jenny pulled away from their friends instead, embarrrassed about their situation. Then, of course, Ann got sick, and neither Don nor his wife knew just HOW sick.

Not until recently, anyway. But not long ago, Jenny contacted Don to ask for help. Dave, she says, is working himself to death trying to keep the family afloat. When he’s not working he’s trying to find extra work, and he hasn’t spent more than 10 minutes with her or their daughter in weeks. She fears that, even if Ann lives, she will have no memory of her father being in her life during her childhood; and, worse, she fears that Dave will miss the last months of her life if worse comes to worse. Can’t Don do something?

Of course he can. And of course he’s willing. Catching up with his old friend. Don offers him a check that will not only get them out of debt but also cover their living and medical expenses for at least a year. Don tells Dave not to worry about paying the money back. He means this sincerely, as what Dave thinks of as a small fortune is trivial to Don.

Looking at the check, Dave hesitates for a long moment. At last he says that he appreciates what Don is trying to do, but he can’t accept such a huge sum as a gift. Neither, of course, does he dare reject it outright; it could easily be the difference between the family keeping their house or becoming homeless. So he wants Don to promise to treat this as a loan. There needs to be a contract to sign, and Dave has to be charged the same interest Don would charge anyone else. Otherwise, he says, he can’t accept it.

How would you describe Dave’s position? What should Don say in response?

(Poll in a moment, but don’t let that slow you down.)

I voted Admirable, because Dave has the right to reject anything he thinks demeaning; and Nuts,because I can’t imagine refusing money if I needed it, whether it be charity, inheritance or gift if it’s honestly offered. It’s just money, there’s nothing holy about it, nor any reason why anyone deserves it more than another. Don seems very generous; whilst Dave is a puritan deliberately electing others to suffer for his own self-love.

And that Don pretends to accept it.

A friend helping a friend isn’t charity.

Dave is being foolishly proud and ought to be bitch-slapped by Jenny and Ann. This isn’t a friend sacrificing to help someone else. This is a friend not even noticing the help. Dave should suck it up, take the money, get his act together and his family right, then maybe blow Don as a thank you.

Bear in mind that Dave isn’t refusing the money outright. He’s insisting on paying it back.

How do you figure?

While I agree that Don’s a mensch and a good friend, I’m not sure that generous is quite the right word. After all, the amount he’s offering is trivial to him.

OK, call it a loan. Big deal. Don still never needs the money back, and should stall any repayment until he’s sure Dave et al are out of the woods. Then he can turn around and make Dave’s checks payable to a charity working on Ann’s illness.

Dave is too proud for his own good. He’s trying to ‘do the right thing’ by asking Dave to treat the offer as a loan, but he really should swallow his pride and accept the gift. After all, that’s what friends are for.

As for Don, he should ‘pretend’ to accept Dave’s offer, and if Dave actually manages to pay him, he should probably put the money in a trust for Dav’s family.

Really, what should have happened is that don should have made the offer to Jenny in the first place and left Dave out of it.

Dave is being foolish and self destructive. This “every man for himself” nonsense is part of what makes the common people of America such victims. And pride that leads you to ruin is by definition self destructive pride. Especially when the person offering you help isn’t out to exploit or humiliate you.

Foolish. He should have accepted the job offer as soon as he lost his. There are people out there who would kill to have a friend both willing and capable of helping them in the way Don is and by rejecting that help it’s as if he’s dick-slapping them all in the face. He has a wife and sick child and he values his misplaced sense of honor and pride more than he does them.

Dave is admirable, but with his family so much in need, he’s not in a position to turn down the money, and accepting it as a loan is a decent compromise. However, Don should make it very clear that if Dave’s luck continues to be bad, he (Don) will not press for payment nor allow his lawyers/accountants/etc to press for payment. He should also revise his will such that Dave’s debt is remitted if Don dies. Friendship does NOT dictate that he should then promptly die.

BUT, Don is a wealthy man. He may not have made his money in Dave’s field, but I’m willing to bet he knows or can meet someone at roughly his own financial level who is in Dan’s field, and ask that Dave be given favorable consideration for a job, just as he might for a relation in a comparable situation. If Dave feels this is too charitable, Don should point out that many, if not most of the other applicants for any job have similar recommendations, and that all Don is doing is ensuring that Dave at least gets an interview - a chance to show his skills and ability. Hiring has always had a fair degree of “who you know” in it. It gets a foot in the door, nothing more (usually).

I voted too quickly and now wish I could change what I voted. “Dave is proud in the worst way” was how I immediately reacted, but after thinking about it, I think he is being selfish…it takes a bigger person than Dave to swallow their pride and accept the help of a true friend. Dave is a total jerk for making his family suffer when his situation could be easily and honorably rectified by accepting a gift from a friend. I mean, at what point does a monetary gift go over a point of honor? Hypothetically, most people would think nothing about receiving a check for a hundred bucks inside a birthday card from their friend…but what if your friend is Bill Gates? Is is insulting for the check to be for $500? $1000? $10000? More?
I say Dave should take the money with sincere gratitude and then pass on the kindness to the less fortunate in any way he can…thus thanking Fortune (and Don, too) for their kindness.

Something just occurred to me that I hadn’t considered when I wrote the OP: the issue of honesty.

Right now, nine of us (including me) have voted that Don should pretend to accept Dave’s suggestion but with the mental reservation that he will never press for the money (which is presumably not the way he’d handle the situation if, say, one of his employees was asking him for a loan). This strikes me as odd because, in past threads like this that were explicitly about the bounds of ethical behavior (rather than pride, which is what I had in mind on this thread), many people have opined that agreed with Kant* that lying is never ethical. Is it not lying for Don to do as I suggested in that option?

Also, as I think on it, I believe that, in Don’s position, I would say “Fuck that shit,” and give the money directly to Jenny. Though that probably ends badly for both the friendship and the marriage.

  • Per Rhymer Rule 209d, I must pause to ritually spit at the mention of that jackass. I don’t know why I didn’t mention him in the time-travel assassination thread.

What he said.

Also Tripolar needs to be bitch slapped with a trout for reminding you about these cursed threads. Just because I hate them and they make me pound my head against my desk in angst, doesn’t mean I have the self control not to open them (one of the reasons I hate them so much).

You’d be surprised at the number of wealthy people who wouldn’t give a penny to even a loved one’s need.
Hetty Green for one. She started off with just $7.5 million and amassed $200 million: her son lost his leg because she tried to get free treatment.

Ethics are charming toys, but effectiveness is what counts.

Kant’s only value is the number of amusing puns his name offers.

Any principle that requires you to finger Anne Frank for the Nazis if they ask you where she is isn’t “ethical” at all. It’s just an attempt to avoid having to make any actual ethical judgments IMHO; if you hold that you should never, ever lie under any circumstances then that means you can avoid making any decisions on the matter and lay all responsibility on that inflexible rule. Rather like the notoriously stupid “zero tolerance” policies many schools have adopted.

I think Dave should take the money, and Don should let him sign the contract - but no interest. Why interest? When I loan a really good friend money I never ever even think of interest.

He is a jerk for not taking the job out of his selfish pride when it could have helped. He should have, and attempted to learn the job and do the best he could.
I can see him trying to retain some pride by not just taking the money as a gift, but he should take the money somehow.

And I have never said lying was wrong in all circumstances - on the contrary, I believe we all must lie a little to get through life smoothly - so I think Don should just never press him about it and consider it a gift in his head.

Denying something for yourself because of pride is one thing. He’s denying the health and comfort of his family, when they clearly want (and need) the help.

I wanted to vote for “I liked Dave better when he was doing commercials for Wendy’s”…but somehow that didn’t make the cut. Maybe next time.


I’d consider Dave to be proud in a good way (or at least proud in a kind of neutral way) since he is willing to take the money and honest enough to admit that a contract would make him feel less guilty about it. He might be an idiot for turning down the job offer, but at least he can admit when things are getting bad. Proud in the worst way, to me, would be not accepting the money at all.

I also think Don should just pretend to accept. Or accept and send the cash back to Jenny.

Don should make counterproposal. Dave, if he feels that the check is a loan, is likely to keep up with his killing work schedule in order to make payments to Don. It’s all well and good for Don to divert Dave’s payment checks to a trust fund for his goddaughter (or something along those lines), but Dave’s health is at stake here too, and if he doesn’t ease up on himself, he’s likely to die rather than derive any benefit from Don’s intervention.

So Don should counterpropose that he’ll accept a contract on the condition that Dave accept his assistance in getting back to work at a level equivalent to what he and Jenny had been earning before things went south.

Dave learned the wrong lessons about “nobility” and “honor.” Good on him for sincerely trying to live up to the ideals, but he needs some way to re-learn them that doesn’t distort them into things that turn him into a pitiful, pitiless husk of his former self. The self that Don found a good friend, and Jenny chose to make her mate.

Skald, if Kant said all lying was inherent unethical, he was living in a dream world along with Marx and other philosophers who insist that humans are rational and emotionless. Being a good person requires walking a thin line between honesty and kindness, and being an effective person requires walking a thin line between honesty and self-interest. Most of us get it wrong from time to time in our lives, but most of us try. I’ve always found “well, at least I was honest” to be an utterly lame excuse for callously and unnecessarily hurting another person’s feelings.

While I disagree with Claverhouse that ethics are just a charming toy, I think ethics are sometimes misused as substitutes for goodness, and as rationalizations for laziness. Ethics are a very useful guideline for behavior, but they should be applied intelligently. I think lawyers are so despised because their job is to use and in some cases subvert those ethics codified as law. Most lawyers are ethical, but they may or may not be moral. Their job isn’t to be moral; it’s to be ethical.