Do the Right Thing
(MONEY Magazine) – Should We Rat Out Donors Who Gave Less Than People Think?
Q The local theater company is a big deal in our town. Friends with whom we attend made a $500 contribution to it this year, as did we. But our friends are listed in the program as $5,000 donors. They've told no one about the error, so everyone thinks it's true and is suitably impressed. Should we correct this false impression when it comes up, which is often?
ANSWER We're all for telling the truth, and we appreciate your concern--and your annoyance. But the virtues of honesty notwithstanding, who will be harmed if no one ever learns that your friends didn't actually contribute $5,000? Not the theater group--they have their $500 contribution. Not the folks who think the donation is $5,000--their misperception isn't costing them anything. And not your friends, who are unlikely to be so encouraged by the undeserved recognition that they decide to embark on a life of deception.
It's you alone whom your friends have harmed by making you complicit in their misrepresentation, especially if they accept congratulations in front of you and expect you to say nothing. That's cheating on your friendship, and you don't owe them your silence when it happens. But unless your friends are habitual liars or blowhards--or unless you simply can't stand to let it go--we hope you'll keep mum and let them have their fun. Everyone's allowed a small ethical lapse from time to time. And who knows, maybe your friends will so enjoy being big shots that next year they'll really pony up five grand.
Questions about money and ethics? Our ethicists are consultants who advise attorneys on people's ethical beliefs. E-mail them at email@example.com.
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