by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ
Question: Friends always hold a lavish holiday party, which we enjoy attending. Another regular guest is a wealthy neighbor who is facing securities fraud charges, charges that are clearly well-founded. Must we chat pleasantly with this man, or is it okay to convey by way of our frosty manner that we're disgusted by his dishonorable behavior?
Answer: Why stop with the cold shoulder? Why not a slap in the face with your glove?
Seriously, we’re as offended as you are by white collar crime and the people who commit it. But until a person stands trial – until the prosecution presents its case and the person accused of the crime has an opportunity to defend himself – you shouldn’t rush to judgment. Once the evidence is in, though, feel free to let the judgment flow. And if what you learn convinces you that this guy is a crook, there’s no reason you shouldn’t treat him as one, regardless of how your friends behave toward him.
What you mustn’t do, however, is use a friend’s party as an opportunity to act out your disapproval. When you accept an invitation to someone’s home, you have an obligation to be pleasant with all the other guests. If you aren’t willing to do this, you should decline the invitation. You might even want to tell your hosts why, in the hope they’ll reconsider before again extending their hospitality to this man. But making a friend’s guest feel uncomfortable, while not in a league with securities fraud, is still out of bounds.
Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.