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Love and Money

What’s the Right Thing?


Monday, June 17, 2013

We deal every day with questions of what is right and wrong, what is ethical and unethical. The purpose of this column is to have you write (anonymously) and tell me your ethical dilemma. I will pick one or more each week for discussion in the column.

The responses to the first ethical dilemma – How much do you help your son or daughter with their college essay? – revealed three different parental points of view.

Ben Bycel
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Ben Bycel

First, “Let him do it all by himself.” (Good luck getting in somewhere).

Second, “I would have no problem doing most of the essay myself.” (Stanford, here we come).

Third, and, in my opinion the most thoughtful response, called for the parent to give limited assistance to the student. The parent might help the student outline her essay. Or the parent may have a general discussion about possible subjects. These parents all discussed the dilemma as an opportunity to teach about about responsibility. Here is what one parent wrote.

“While there is no bright-line answer, talking about ramifications of any dilemma is a teaching moment. It is an opportunity for a child to learn personal responsibilities are associated with any choice. Including responsibility for what is not chosen.”

And here are two new ethical dilemmas for you. Please check last week’s column for a more detailed discussion of the differing definitions of ethics.

Situation 1: You are out to dinner. Let’s make it an expensive restaurant in a semi-secluded spot in town. You’re there with your significant other. You and your partner see one of your best friends walk in with a person who is not her husband. Your friend doesn’t see you, and she and the other person take a table in a dark corner of the room. You two busy bodies cannot keep your eyes off the couple. They seem to be whispering (though you can’t hear) sweet nothings to each other. You then see your friend reach over and take his hands. Not wanting to be seen, you ask for the bill and quietly slip out.

Do you have an ethical duty of any kind to inform the partner, who is also your friend, what you witnessed that night? Should you approach your friend and tell her what you saw? If so, why?

What if the husband of the woman in the restaurant comes to you and says, “I think my wife is having an affair”? Do you tell him what you witnessed? Do you lie?

What if the wife saw you in the restaurant, and later asks you not to say anything to her husband?

(Please note: Neither the paper nor Street Ethicist is legally responsible for any domestic disputes that occur because you debated this question.)

Situation 2: You have hired a small owner- operated company to install a brand new hot tub in your back yard. When you ask the price for the unit and installation, he tells you:

“I can’t give you an exact quote until after I begin the work. But I know it will be at least $10,000 and will not exceed $13,000.”

You agree, and sign a contract that stated those amounts. The work is completed. When the bill arrives from the company, it’s only $6,000 and marked paid in full. You’re delighted and relieved that he came in $4,000 below what you expected.

You wonder for a brief moment if he’s made a mistake. Even if he did, you remember reading somewhere that a bill marked paid by the seller is legally paid. You immediately write a check and send it off. (Warning: Nothing in this column is legal advice).

Is it your ethical responsibility to call and ask him if he’s made a mistake?

Would it be different if he had a bookkeeping service do the billing in contrast to one done by hand, presumably by the owner?

The owner calls a week later, telling you he made a terrible mistake. The bill should have been $9,000 instead of $6,000 (which is still less than the lowest estimate of $10,000). What do you do?

Is it ethical to gain from his mistake?

Let me know your thoughts, and present me with some ethical dilemmas (all submission are anonymous) you may have faced.

Please submit quandaries for this column to streetethics@independent.com.

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