Asking For a Favor And Turned Down Flat

Has this ever happened to you?

There is someone who has needed a lot of help from me recently—rides, errands, a shoulder to cry on, and mostly time.  I try to help out people when I can, especially if I am asked, because, obviously, it’s the right thing to do.

After a day in which my assistance to this individual was especially inconvenient and aggravating, essentially blowing a day that I could not afford to have blown, I learned about a personal situation facing me the next day that was going to be a problem, and realized that the person I had been assisting would be able to make my life a lot easier by granting a favor, and not a very difficult one.  So I asked her.

She immediately turned me down, because it wasn’t going to be “convenient.” I was, in sequence, shocked, hurt, and angry. As she saw these emotions flash across my face, she immediately began to backtrack, now saying that of course she would help, and that she would never want me to be angry with her. I told her I would make other arrangements.

It is always a surprise to me when completely self-absorbed people show that they are literally incapable of processing the data of life without thinking of themselves first. Many people are like that, however; even many otherwise generous and pleasant people.  This was an example: even though this individual was being asked for a small favor by someone she had lavishly heaped with thanks and gratitude for giving her so much help during a difficult time, her first instinct was to think about whether she could do the favor without any inconvenience to herself. Only when she perceived my annoyance at her response, and feared that it would endanger future assistance from me, did she decide that a rational cost-benefit analysis favored doing what I requested.

My wife argues that this shows massive ingratitude, and that I should stop being so free with my generoisty. I don’t think it is ingratitude, exactly. I think this woman is genuinely grateful. But like most people, she is interpreting my actions by her own values and instincts. She can’t understand why anyone would help someone out of kindness, if it requires sacrifice or doesn’t have some guaranteed benefit to make it a good deal for the do-gooder. I’m sure she thinks I am reasoning the same way. As a result, she probably doesn’t know how much all of those favors to her inconvenience me.

I don’t think I should have to tell her; it’s wrong to make people you help feel guilty about the problems it causes you. I don’t think I should punish her by not helping her anymore; she really needs help right now. I’m not going to teach her how the Golden Rule works at this late date; she’s had a long life to learn it, and obviously hasn’t. I don’t want her to do favors for me as a quid pro quo, because I haven’t been helping her to accumulate I.O.U.’s.

The only ethical response that I can come up with is not to ask her for any more favors. Is there something else?

6 thoughts on “Asking For a Favor And Turned Down Flat

  1. Jack,
    On the flip side of that, some years back I shared an apartment with someone who was always adamant about paying back small amounts of money borrowed and retuning favors in kind almost immediately, much to my initial delight. However, as time went on I began to realize that the reason he preferred instant payment was to avoid feeling as though he was in debt to someone (monetarily or otherwise) for fear he might asked to repay at a time when it wasn’t convenient.

    Even attempts at simple generosity were rebuffed (such letting him drink some of my beer) by his insistence that he would “pay me back.” On the one hand, I appreciated the effort to keep a level scale, but on the other it was irritating that “favors” always had to be at his convenience or they would likely go ungranted and, when they were, it was always a quid pro quo arrangement. Either way, at that level it’s stops being generosity and becomes little more than money-lending.


    • Two words: “The Godfather.” There are people in my life, including relatives, that look at every favor they do for you as a chit to cash in later, and I better pay up. I don’t accept favors from people like that. They aren’t favors at all. They are traps.

  2. I became “the guy” to ditch shifts on at the movie theatre where I work. One girl was a bit notorious for either not calling in on reserves and leaving me to get called in her place, or taking shifts from her I didn’t really want.

    The final straw was when she wanted to take a shift, but because she thought we weren’t totally trading shifts, part of one shift went uncovered (if my boss could have contacted me outside of the house, I could have went in once he called) I almost got written up for it, but since it was a misunderstanding, he let it slide.

    At that point, I mailed her and told her, “I’m sorry, but taking shifts from you has become a liability that I cannot afford. I wish you luck in the future, because henceforth, you are on your own.”

    I’ve worked with her a few times since then, and there’s no different relationship in that sense, but I hate being such a pushover for stuff like this. It finally got to the point where I said, “Sorry, but I can’t do it anymore.”

    Jack, this reminds me of the last time I decided not to turn someone’s request for a favor down and it turned into such a charlie-foxtrot. But that’s too long to get into here.

  3. You touched on an important point, Jack. Many people are so insular in their thinking that they DO consider all motivations in the context of their own, oblivious to the concept that others may have different ones, for better or worse. People who are inherently selfish or radical in their concepts are particularly apt to display this mentality. They are to be avoided!

  4. I think you should continue to ask her for favors. She’s not too old to learn the Golden Rule. Stroke victims “learn” movement of limbs by having their limbs manipulated. So too with the Golden Rule. Maybe.

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