Sunday, January 24, 2010


You're at a party at your friend's house. Well, a reader of mine is at a party at her friend's house. It's a swell event, a birthday party for the friend's roommate.

All is going well until one of the party guests spills a drink on the friend's month-and-a-half-old netbook computer, which had set her back about $300. The spilling guest offers to pay to replace the netbook, but the friend really doesn't think that he can afford to do so. Five or six others at the party, including the roommate whose birthday is being celebrated, offer to chip in for a replacement.

"Is it ethical for my friend to actually take any money from anyone for a new netbook?" my reader asks. "My friend feels guilty about taking any money, and I'm conflicted as well, so we'd love to know what you think as an ethics expert."

My reader wonders if such offers are actually meant to be accepted, or if they are more of a courtesy.

"There really seems to be some kind of social pressure not to take money from friends," she writes.

The short answer to my reader's question is that there would be no ethical lapse if her friend took the money offered to replace the netbook, whether it came from the person who spilled the drink or from the group en masse.

If you wreck something, offering to replace it is the responsible thing to do. Other guests have no obligation to chip in - but they have no obligation not to and, if they make the offer and the friend accepts, it doesn't reflect poorly on anyone involved. The friend certainly is not under any obligation not to accept, and should not feel any shame if she does.

It's possible, of course, that the people offering to help out are secretly hoping that their offer will be declined, but we can't go through life looking gift horses in the mouth. We have to assume that, in general, our friends mean what they say unless we have good reason to suppose otherwise.

A good rule of thumb is that if your gesture to help out someone - financially or otherwise - is a hollow one, don't make it. Assume that what you say will be taken at face value, and don't make any offers you don't want to carry out.

The right thing for my reader's friend to do is to start by exploring other alternatives, however, before cashing in on the spiller's offer and/or that of other guests. I advised my reader that her friend might want to check to see whether this sort of damage might be covered by her apartment insurance or by the netbook's warranty. Her apartment insurance doesn't cover such an accident, as it turns out, and the warranty makes no mention of coverage for damage by water - or other beverage. It doesn't say that such damage would not be covered, however.

It might have been simpler to take the pooled funds from her guests and be done with it, but the right thing was for my reader's friend to check with the manufacturer to see if it might replace the netbook or repair it at minimal cost. Her friends' offer should be a last resort, not a first resort.

Ultimately, my reader reports, her friend ended up returning the netbook to the manufacturer and did indeed get a replacement under the warranty - "so it all worked out in the end without anyone having to pay. Hurrah!"

Hurrah, indeed.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A human beings who dares to decay one hour of age has not discovered the value of life.