“What is wrong with people?” the widow exclaimed. “I am so disheartened right now.” A prequalified couple had agreed to purchase the home she’d shared with her departed husband but had entreated for a short-term lease to make the timing for their move a bit more convenient. The widow kindly agreed. The couple again asked for an extension of the closing date. This time, the reasons given seemed either too vague or entirely implausible. Still, the accommodating widow accommodated. Naturally, as the newest closing date approached, the couple said they needed still more time.
With this, the widow pushed back, and the couple admitted that they had overshot their budget in the last few months and were now short about 20 percent of the capital needed. As the sob story unfolded, they asked the widow to let them pay her, over time, for the gap. Offended by her resistance, they felt entitled to remind her that she “must have” seen some insurance money. Since she, they assumed, had cash in her pocket, she had an ethical obligation to share some of it with them.
This story is all too common. Today’s general lack of empathy, coupled with a loss of any fear of social constraint, inevitably leads to grotesque self-centeredness. Many of us are confronted with those who say, and believe, that we are obligated to make their lives easier by making ours more difficult. “Getting even is not only justified,” they might argue, “it is a moral duty.” The problem with the summary change of thousands of years of human experience is that much of the way we live is good — and that not all change is. The law, the social contract and basic common sense are mostly right. Are there inequities? Probably. Still, aren’t rules better than chaos?