One of my favorite columns in Money Magazine is the Do the Right Thing column where they discuss money and ethics. Although, I don’t think they are necessarily giving ethical advice based on Biblical principles, often times the advice is Biblically solid. The column from the recent issue brought up a point that really struck me as being sound wisdom.
The short version of the story is:
The parents of a son getting married offered to pay for 1/3 of the wedding to the bride’s parents. The bride’s family accepted and informed the Groom’s family of the final total that they owed. The Groom’s family suspected that the Bride’s family was asking for more than the 1/3 than they agreed to. They were asking how they should handle the situation.
Jeanne Fleming, the writer of the column, suggested to:
1. Call around to the caterer, florist, photographer, etc and get a quote from them for a wedding like their sons. Basically, just make sure you are right before you bring this out into the open.
2. If the numbers don’t add up, then…
“Call the Bride’s parents with your most apologetic voice and say, ‘I’m just wondering if there’s been some sort of error. We’d been expecting the wedding to cost (whatever you believe it actually cost). Could you double-check the math to be certain there’s been no mistake?’ In other words, without being accusatory, give them a face-saving opportunity to adjust the bill.”
3. If they don’t adjust the bill Jeanne suggests sucking it up and to just write the check to maintain family harmony.
A face-saving opportunity
I really like the advice she gave, especially the part about giving them a face-saving opportunity. This element of tact seems to have been forgotten in much of our society. Rather than showing love and cutting someone a little slack who may have made a mistake, many people seek to get revenge and are just looking for the opportunity to tell them they are wrong.
In the case mentioned above, giving the bride’s parents a way of escape allows for a possible non-confrontational resolution to the problem. It allows a little wiggle-room for the benefit of the doubt. Maybe there were unexpected expenses, maybe they really did do their math wrong, or (gasp) maybe you did your math wrong. And really there are hundreds of other possible explanations and it would be wise of us to realize that we don’t know it all.
The other path of course (the path most taken) would be to have an assumption (based on very little evidence) and then start World War III with the new daughter-in-law’s family and end up on the Jerry Springer show.
I just really hate sticking my foot in my mouth. I have done it so many times by making foolish assumptions or accusations that I look for any way I can to avoid it! Giving people a face-saving opportunity has been one of those helpful tricks. I can’t even count how many times I have thought I understood a situation and used this method to non-confrontationally gather some information – only to find out I was completely wrong. I am then very happy that I didn’t start blabbing my head off, blaming others when I was the one who was wrong.
Even being barely out of the newlywed phase, it seems to me that marriage provides a lot of opportunities to practice this. Luckily I have a very patient wife who puts up with me as I slowly develop this skill.