How Do People Get These Crazy Ideas About Right And Wrong?

I always review the “Social Qs” advice column on Sundays, and frequently have a disagreement with the advice offered by columnist Philip Gallanes. (He’s pretty good, though.) This time, however, his column bothered me from a different perspective, namely, “What the hell is the matter with these people?” I found Gallanes’ advice reasonable and ethical throughout, but in three of the four letters, the conduct described was so obviously wrong that I found myself once again feeling that my insignificant efforts to try to promote good ethics decision-making skills (a task that takes up about three hours a day, seven days a week, 365 ,  366 this year, days a year—Do NOT tell my business partner!—are an irresponsible waste of time that I will want back when I am dying  of COVID-19.

First, a college freshman wrote that her boyfriend had given her  a 50 dollar gift certificate for Panera on Valentine’s Day. When she told the guy, whom she said was “great,” that his gift was terrible, he replied, “Well, at least I got you a gift.”

What? The woman had the nerve to complain about his Valentine’s Day gift to her when she had just blown off giving him any gift at all? A gift worth fifty dollars is still a gift, even if the kid is a little confused about the whole “romantic” thing. He’ll learn. Where, however, in these days of Whine and Roses did  the inquirer get the idea that she didn’t have to keep up her end?

The next letter raised the old bugaboo, the dinner guest who brings food or drink to the party and then takes home what wasn’t used. In this case, it was a bottle of cheap wine. This was the kind of thing my Depression era mother would do, which is one reason my folks didn’t get out much. But really, how could anyone think this wasn’t rude, cheap, and wrong? These are gifts. They aren’t loans.

Finally, there was this:

I treated my colleague to a ticket to an expensive fund-raiser as my guest. While there, she bought a raffle ticket and won a $5,000 gift certificate to a local department store. Do you think she should have offered to share it with me? (I do.)

I don’t.

Of course I don’t. In tort law, this is called an intervening cause. If the colleague broke her back at the event, would the host have been expected to pay half the medical bills? If something said to the colleague at the event sparked an idea for new form of cheap and clean energy, would the one who paid for the ticket have a right to half the invention’s profits?

No one who graduates from high school should be capable of getting these typical daily life ethics challenges so wrong.

18 thoughts on “How Do People Get These Crazy Ideas About Right And Wrong?

  1. I never thought the woman had to give the guy anything – when you are courting a woman you are supposed to be trying to impress her by giving her things you think she will like. I think “the rules” say that if a guy fails to give a gift on Valentine’s Day, a birthday, or other significant events a woman should drop him immediately. I’d be surprised if a woman I was pursuing gave me anything, except maybe at Christmas, when gift-giving is a key part of the holiday (and if she gives me nothing that’s probably a good signal this isn’t going anyplace). That said, I would look askance at a woman who would drop expensive gift suggestions weeks before her birthday but wouldn’t even text me to say happy birthday on mine (a better signal that this shouldn’t go anyplace).

    The second person obviously didn’t grow up in an Italian family, with the concept of abbondanza, in which we always served much more food than was needed at gatherings, and, between the five goodbyes (initial, in the kitchen, in the living room, at the door, and in the car with the motor running) encouraged guests to take home some of what wasn’t eaten, be it part of the pan of lasagna, some leftover meatballs or sausage, a few cannoli or almond cookies, or all three and then some. If they took home some of what they brought as well as some of what others brought, no problem. Btw, if it had been beer rather than wine, maybe what you mention applies (some say you don’t buy beer, you rent it).

    The last one’s just dumb and obviously so.

    • What about the girl trying to impress the guy? Why a one way street? I always got gifts and gave them on those reciprocal holidays. Courting is a two way street.

      • Yes, I find it odd that women who want ‘equality’ and not to be viewed as sexual objects feel that they are a prize to be won. You are just making people confused and mad by trying to have it both ways. I am sure you can find many videos on YouTube of young women who want an ‘equal’ relationship, but feel their dates should pay for their dinner because they ‘are pretty’.

        • Most young women have had their heads stuffed pretty much from the time that they were babies that they are beautiful, they are smart, they are strong, they are six degrees of awesome just for being female. How could they think of themselves as other than “prizes,” not in the sense of something to be won, but in the sense of being something really great? How many girl-oriented stories are there where the girl is a whiz, but dad is distant and any brothers are either out of touch or annoying? How many sitcoms are there where the dad is a complete bumbling boob, but mom puts up with him because “he means well?” Now we are into “me too,” where men are not just incompetent, ugly, smelly, and gross, but also dangerous predators.

          A 23yo woman just out of college knows she’s at her prime. Her beauty is a depreciating asset, and typically, she will never be more physically beautiful than she is then. She may well grow wiser, she may develop more depth, she may get more skill, but typically her appearance will lose something a little at a time. I assume you know the joke about the geography of a woman? From 18 to 22 she’s like Africa, virgin and unexplored. From 23 to 30 she’s like Asia, hot and spicy. From 30 to about 43 she’s like America, fully explored, but still with much potential. From 43 to 50-52ish she’s like Europe, aging, but still with points of interest. After that, she’s either like Antarctica, everyone knows about it but no one goes there, or like Australia, everyone knows it’s down there, but no one gives a damn. She’s heard it too, and, despite bitter protestations about how it’s sexist (which it is), she only half believes it isn’t true. So, while she’s at the height of her power over others, she might as well use it, get a free dinner often, get presents on significant days, and maybe marry well and divorce better. It’s a game, they just know how to play it.

  2. Regarding the wine bottle, it is bad form to expect to take it back, especially if it has been opened.

    Having said that, the host can release it.

    There was some commercial event last month, interspersed with people doing sports things between commercials. They also had a sexy interlude, which I missed because I never learn that the sexiness happens in the middle of it all.

    Anyway, it seemed like a good time to invite the kids over to play with our kids. But, we had to invite the adults over; that would seem creepy otherwise. And it is a good thing to break the winter hibernation routine.

    People brought various things. At the end of the night, I offered that guests take home leftovers. Not because they should, but because we would not be able to use them.

    Guests should not presume, but hosts should not hoard.

    (Except wine. I could take care of that. )


  3. I don’t follow Gallanes and don’t read The Times much either, but, I will entertain the idea that Gallanes intentionally selects letters, some at least, so readers can console themselves with the thought that they are nowhere near so stupid as the letter-writer. I see things in this vein on Facebook, some blogs, and in other media where stupidity is highlighted so that the poster and readers can reassure themselves that they are much better than that. It is of a piece with the routine disparagement of political leaders, including those who are highly successful, in the false belief that by demeaning someone else, one elevates himself.

      • If they’re officially a couple, in the year 2020, that means they are past any courting or “trying to impress” stage. They might live together or (more likely given their young ages) they might frequently spend the night together.

        Girls in Current Year know that any man they play “hard to get” with could easily just give up, go home, watch porn, and log back on to Tinder the next day to find someone who’s less trouble. So they’re giving away the store one or two dates in. Because we live in the age of empowerment or something.

        I’m a Christian who stayed a virgin until I was married in my late 20s (happily 12 years in now!) and even back in my prime it was a dating minefield, where young women don’t understand or want a guy who won’t rush things. I briefly had a girlfriend who was everything most guys would want and also a smart professional (I like smart girls.) One day I thought she was crazy about me and the next she disappeared and didn’t return calls for over a week. I even dropped by her house and told her Dad to let her know I had come by (at that point mostly just as a courtesy) and then moved on.

        Then months later when I’m living in another State she calls to tell me how great I am and wants me back. When I pointed out that she basically went into hiding from me for days she said I should have tried harder to win her back or whatever. I don’t remember how that conversation ended but it was awkward, and of course our last.

        Maybe men could lose their dignity and fall all over themselves for a virtuous young maiden in like 1750, but that was because they were getting, you know, a virtuous young maiden, committed to you for life.

        If you’re buying meals and presents for a girl who could dump you the next day, you should at least get a Valentine’s gift too.

  4. Well, from my end of never having much surplus, a fifty dollar gift is quite generous for a casual level relationship. I might tease him about the appropiateness for Valentines, warning him to never get me a vacuum upon pain of wedgie-a-day for a few visits. But college years and a few starter jobs after, that would make a nice dinner for two delivered when we’re both tired. Practical and romantic if handled well. The leftover food is at the hosts option if they want help getting rid of excess food (Italian food trad here too) The important thing is for the guest not to assume or expect anything and relax. The charity raffle is only luck, like if you are the silly type to buy lottery tickets as gifts, you don’t get to claim prize. If it was the buyer’s good luck, they would have won.

    The overall problem these show, is that I think boomers and later generations have not raised with the idea of being fair to the people around them… or being kind. It’s not fair or kind to belittle any gift that was sincerely meant. be it gift certificate or box of candy. The old ban on takebacks/expecting some kind of quid pro quo for a supposed gift has helped make this mess of ‘Me too’ possible. Gifts are gifts and not a pay ahead. And sadly, if the gifting is not in both directions, someone wants a sugar daddy/mamma, not a partner.

    • I always thought that if a woman either didn’t say thanks for a gift or said thank you just enough to be polite, she was expressing disinterest in you without expressing it, sort of like “saying no without saying no.” At that point you should get the message and go away.

  5. I have been to a lot of parties in my life where people brought food and everyone took their leftovers home. I actually think that has been more normal than people leaving the food they brought. This may have to do with church potluck culture. If you have a bunch of people over, and people bring dishes to share with everyone, at the end of the night everyone doesn’t just leave the leftovers and casserole dishes at the host’s house. I mean, if someone brings a bag of chips, they don’t usually take the 20% full bag home, but yes, people take the half-full dish of scalloped potatoes home with them.

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