Obligation and Charity 12/27/22

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

My friend is contemplating completing her PsyD before she even has her Master’s degree. They call it a “PsyD” instead of a “Ph.D.” because psychology is not a real degree, which I say only to see if she’s actually reading my posts. I’m hoping not because I like them right where they are as I write this.

When I think about graduate school, it was really just a couple of years ago. At least in my mind. In reality, it was before cell phones. Our phones were still plugged into the wall, and a “wireless” phone was just a phone that used a radio transmitter that was synced with the piece that still went into the wall. Or you could just get a really long cable, which frankly worked better.

Graduate school taught me a lot, like be careful with whom you try to offer help. We had a new graduate student one year from another country. She was getting a new phone line installed (a proverbial “land line” in today’s vernacular) but didn’t have a phone. As it turned out, I had an old phone that was wireless and that I was no longer using, so I offered, I thought graciously, to give it to her. Unfortunately, when she plugged it in, the rechargeable batteries were too old and could no longer hold a charge. As such, it didn’t work, but it was actually a nice phone for that day and age, and it wasn’t hard to just open the back panel and replace the batteries.

When she realized that the phone didn’t work, she was livid. The next day she hunted me down like a rabid soccer mom on PCP and read me the riot act. She insisted that I owed her a telephone because I promised to give her one. Well, of course I did, and in good faith that it was still working. I felt bad that it didn’t work as I thought it would, and yet I was also quite upset that my gesture of good will suddenly became, in her mind, an obligation to buy her a new phone. She even went to her and my advisers to complain about this phone that I gave to her for free. Never did she ask me to help, or offer to return it because it didn’t work, and honestly, had she explained to me that it didn’t work and asked me if there was something else that I could do, I would have gladly worked with her to find replacement batteries, or even another phone.

But that didn’t happen. She was foaming at the mouth like a raccoon trying to eat Alka Seltzer pills and blamed me that they tasted awful. Because of her attitude and accusations, honestly, I didn’t feel like I owed her anything further and washed my hands of the whole affair. I don’t know if she found another schmuck to help her out or if she bit the bullet and just bought her own damned phone like any reasonable adult would do (although she was a graduate student, so she probably was short of money), but I was done.

Today I bought the groceries for the woman in line at the grocery store behind me. I didn’t have to, but it made me feel good to provide this random act of kindness. She was gracious, and thanked me profusely, and it felt like it did when I first gave that phone to the new graduate student, but had she turned on me like this colleague turned as if she was seven-month-old milk left on the counter, the good feelings turn sour, and my attitude changed to one of stubborn self-preservation. Needless to say, we never did become friends, and frankly I don’t think she lasted very long in graduate school.

The reality is that things don’t always work out. Buying her groceries, there was a finite probability that something could have gone wrong, perhaps my card would fail or maybe I would collapse before completing the transaction. But when things do go wrong, I personally believe that our responses should be tempered by the intention of the other. I didn’t give me a phone I knew to be defective. I was genuinely trying to help, and if she hadn’t jumped on my like a female praying mantis after mating I would have happily helped her to resolve this situation.

On the plus side, I just received a book today on creating analogies.


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