Archive for the ‘Siblings’ Category

Service of a Fragile Sibling Relationship & How to Make Things Worse

Thursday, October 26th, 2023

They could be siblings.

I disagreed with the approach that philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Ethicist columnist at The New York Times magazine, took in his response to a reader. The headline: “My Sister Hid $5,000 From Me, Then Her Husband Died. Do I Ask for the Money?

The reader and her only sibling don’t and never did get along and see each other only at funerals. Last year her sister admitted to hiding money from their mother’s estate and said she’d send it. On that promise, the writer/reader bought an expensive laptop.

The writer told her sister—who is “not wealthy” according to her–that she could send the money in the way that works best for her—monthly or in one check. But she hasn’t seen a penny nor has she heard from her.

She wrote to Appiah: “…..in light of” [the husband’s death] “and our estrangement, I’m not comfortable with cornering her. Should I just forget about it? Or should I pursue it some other way, legally or through her grown kids?”

Appiah responded: “Stealing from a sibling is, from the perspective of both secular and religious morality, obviously wrong. So is promising to return money that you’ve stolen and not doing so.”

Skipping to the end of his reasoning, he concluded “I agree that you shouldn’t insist on what you’re due while your sister is in mourning. But after a reasonable period has elapsed, you can remind her of her promise, letting her know that you actually spent money because you trusted her to make good on it. And yes, if you think it would be helpful to talk to her adult children, you should feel free to do this as well. Being shamed before their kin is one reason that people sometimes do the right thing.”

I totally disagree with bringing in other members of the family—especially the sister’s children. And buying so much as a toothpick before having the money in hand was foolhardy. The premature purchase isn’t the in-debt sibling’s fault.

We do not know the financial situation of the writer. Nevertheless, I would suggest that instead of an aggressive approach, she ask her sister if she is in over her head. Maybe there are other ways the sister can repay the debt in kind.

Under similar circumstances and with the limited information we have, would you treat a sibling so harshly regardless of the history between you?

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