Lying, Stealing and Empathy


What mental line do you have to cross to think it is okay to lie and steal? What does it take to feel empathy for the liar and the person who steals? My friend, whom I’ll call Robin, was upset because a woman she had hired to help with her four kids was dishonest. The woman, whom I’ll call Karla, was driving the oldest child to and from gymnastics so my friend could take her younger kids to their activities. Robin paid Karla by the hour, and Karla would lie about the time she picked up and dropped off the car from Robin’s house. My friend knew the truth because her garage had a sensor that told her when her car entered and exited the garage. She and her daughter Jessica both liked Karla, so Robin found a way to deal with the issue of Karla’s overstating her time in a way that would not embarrass Karla. Robin observed to Karla that the trip was taking longer than Robin expected and suggested that Karla take a faster route to and from gymnastics. Karla got the idea that Robin was paying attention to the time and started reporting her hours accurately.

All seemed to be going well until Robin asked Karla to get gas while Jessica was at gymnastics. Robin gave Karla more money than the gas would cost, but when Karla returned the car, there was no change. Robin asked for the receipt, but Karla said she didn’t have it. Karla acted as if all the money had gone to filling the tank, but Robin knew that there should have been change based on the cost of gas, the amount of gas the car needed, and the amount of money she had given Karla.

“How could she lie like that?” Robin asked. We talked for a while, and we decided that Karla had convinced herself that it was okay to take money from Robin because Karla needed the money and Robin seemed to have so much of it, that Karla thought lying and stealing were justified given her life circumstances. Karla was from Puerto Rico but living in New York to earn money to support her family back home. Her family was struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, living with relatives in a cramped house without running water or electricity. Even before the hurricane hit, Karla’s family had been struggling to make ends meet. We understood that Karla was in survival mode and getting money to support her family trumped ethics and honesty for her.

Robin decided that she could not have Karla help her around the house because Karla had shown herself to be someone who would steal, but Robin was comfortable with Karla continuing to drive Jessica to gymnastics. My friend decided that she could work around the issue with the gas money by requiring a receipt when Karla got gas. Robin understood how much Karla and her family needed the money and wanted to find a way to keep Karla employed. Karla was a kind person and a safe driver.

How can we view a person who lies and steals with empathy? The answer is that we must try to understand the person’s circumstances and what it is like for that person to walk in his or her shoes. We cannot view someone’s behavior through a black and white lens of right and wrong. We must be able to see nuance.

The Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not steal.” Do you think there are circumstances when lying and stealing is understandable, if not justified?




Wife’s Bill of Rights–Money of Her Own

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Does your husband control you because he makes all the money?

Here’s a fact pattern I’ve been seeing: The husband works, the wife stays home with the kids, the husband makes all the decisions on money, leaving the wife feeling helpless and controlled.

Let’s look at an example. The family lives in New York City, and the child is too young to be eligible for the school bus. The mother must take the child crosstown and uptown to get to school each morning. The commute involves three subway lines or one crosstown bus and one subway. Either way, the commute is exhausting for the mother. One morning it was raining and they were running late, so the mom jumped in a cab with her daughter. The commute was a dream, relatively speaking.

The wife tells her husband how hard the commute is with her young daughter and how life would be so much easier if they could take a cab every day. “We don’t have the money,” the husband responds, which sounds like a reasonable answer, except that money miraculously shows up when the husband wants to take the family on vacation or spend on himself. The wife is careful with money, buying herself clothing infrequently and not spending much when she does.

What should you do if your husband keeps tight reins on the money?

First, talk to your husband. Let’s assume money for transportation to school is the issue, as in the example. You could say, “It seems that when I want money for cabs, we don’t have the money, but when you want to go on vacation or buy a new television, the money shows up.” The husband will likely give an answer that makes sense on the surface, such as, “I had just gotten a bonus when I bought the new television, but we were running low on cash when you asked about the taxis.” What he says may or may not be true, but you’ll never know if you are in the dark about money.

You and your husband should be partners in deciding how you spend your money. The money is no less yours because you didn’t earn it. You are the support in your family that makes it possible for your husband to go out and make money. Sit down with your husband and get to know your finances. If it turns out you don’t have the money for taxis, you will understand and you won’t feel controlled. If you do have the money, you will be able to show your husband. Information will empower you.

Your husband may not intend to be controlling. Individuals have different preferences for saving versus spending, and your husband may be more of a saver than a spender. You will never know what motivates him unless you understand your finances. You will not be able to work out your differences unless you are informed.

How to spend money without feeling controlled?

Let’s return to my example where the wife watches her money carefully and doesn’t spend much on clothing. This woman would love to buy herself a new black dress for an upcoming party, but she is hesitant because her husband reviews the credit card statement and she doesn’t want to hear her husband’s comments, which could include, “Did you buy something?”, “Did you need a new dress?” or “That was an expensive dress.” Those comments make her feel controlled. There is a reason many women shop with cash.

Here’s a solution: You and your husband can get together each year, talk about finances and decide on a set amount of money that is yours and yours alone to spend on yourself or however you see fit. There is no reason the husband should not also have discretionary money for himself. I am focusing here on the wife because there is a vulnerability that comes from being out of the paid workforce, and I’ve seen a pattern of wives who do not work feeling controlled by their husbands on matters of money.

Now these husbands may not intend to be controlling. They may legitimately be stressed about money, and not knowing how much money their wives are going to spend can add to the stress. Budgeting discretionary money is a great solution. When the wife spends money out of her discretionary funds, the husband should have no reason to feel stressed because the wife is spending money that has been budgeted for her to spend. I recommend that the discretionary money be set aside in a separate bank account to keep things simple.

A woman who feels controlled by her husband regarding money should let him know how she feels and ask him to work with her to find a solution. She could say something like, “I’m feeling like you are looking over my shoulder whenever I buy something. I would like to be able to spend money without feeling stressed. Can we come up with a solution that would work for both of us?” She could then talk to him about the concept of budgeting money for her to spend. It doesn’t matter how much money a couple can afford to allocate. What matters is that the couple finds a solution where the wife can spend money without feeling controlled.