Hi, this is Michael Josephson for CHARACTER COUNTS! with “Something to Think About”

A few years ago, I told this story on the radio and it generated a lot of disagreement.

Jack was excited when he was given an unexpected bonus check of $1,000 from his employers. He was anxious to rush home to tell his family, but before he got to his car, a desperate-looking woman holding a baby who looked quite sick asked him for a few dollars. She said her child was dying and she showed him a letter from a hospital saying they could not give her the very expensive medicine he needed.

Jack looked at his check and then at the baby. Acting on impulse, he endorsed the check to the woman, saying, “Use this to do what you can for your baby.”

When he told his family what he’d done, his wife was silent but his teenage son ridiculed him.

Deflated, Jack said, “We don’t need the money. It felt like the right thing to do.”

A week later, his son waved a newspaper article in his face reporting that a woman with a baby was arrested for scamming people. “This is the lady you gave the money to, isn’t it?” he asked contemptuously.

“Yes,” Jack replied quietly and then he suddenly beamed with joy.

“What are you smiling about?” his son demanded. “She made a fool of you.”

“Yes, but there’s something much more important,” Jack said, “This means the baby’s not dying.”

His son declared, “You’re an even bigger fool than I thought.”

After a long pause, Jack’s wife embraced her husband lovingly. “There are two ways to look at this and I choose to be awfully proud to be married to a man with such a generous heart. You’re lucky to have him as a dad.”

Who was right – the son or the wife?


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Comments 9

  1. Years ago, when I would be driving home from work, I’d come to an intersection where there was a Friends meetinghouse. Over the transom they had erected a sign which read: “Take the risks of peace”. What Jack did was to take the risks of generosity, of kindness, if you will. I think that’s the better way to live.

    So the wife was right, of course (and darn perceptive).

  2. Yes, the wife was right. We cannot be naive, but we should never regret a spontaneous act of generosity. It will not go unnoticed by the One who rewards such actions.

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, against these there is no law. Galatians 5:21-23

  3. We should always err on the side of generosity and forgiveness. Jack’s ability to focus on the baby and not himself, or even the mother, is admirable. Hopefully his son will recognize that in time. My guess is he will.

  4. Isn’t there a better ethical, generous, and not-idiotically-naive response? Couldn’t this guy take his windfall and donate it to the struggle for healthcare and welfare, as poverty and inadequate medical care disproportionately hurt children? Couldn’t he do that even without $1,000 bonus?

    Better question: Why does the head of an Institute of Ethics focus on these inane hypothetical situations instead of the major ethical dilemmas that we face in the real world?

    1. To Buster, Actually, the question generated precisely the kind of discussion in the middle and high schools that we hoped it would. I wish you could have expressed your opinion without the mean tone.

      1. I cannot heal the worlds ills without first healing my own. And in healing my own I have started to make the world a better by changing the one person I can change . . . myself. This Joseph Campbell quote says it well,

        “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.
        We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.
        When we talk about settling the world

  5. Oh the wife was right and the man did the right thing!! He listened to God touch his heart. That was his responsibility. What the woman did with the money after that is between her and God. What we don’t know is the impact that gift had on her soul. It will gnaw at her even if we don’t ever see it.

    I give to people on the street and my husband chooses not to. When my children challenge me that I’m being foolish with my money, I share this same belief. I am being obedient to God when I give at His urging. What they do with His gifts is between them and God and I pray each time I give that God can work His way into their minds and hearts.

  6. In my personal opinion, the son and the wife were both at least partly wrong. No, giving that woman the money was not all together foolish, it was very generous. Also though, when the wife said that she was happy to have such a generous husband, it made it seem like that was what the story was about. I suppose looking at it that way he was a generous man. The point though that i noticed most was not how good of him to give the money, or how he was not upset when he discovered it was a scam, but the reason he was not upset. He said, “This means the baby’s not dieing.” The man was happy about the baby that was never dieing to begin with not being sick. Its not just generosity, its this ideal goodness of his heart, that it meant so much to him that the baby was okay, that the money he was so exited about didn’t seem to matter anymore. An ideal goodness that in an ideal world, everyone would have. I do not think generous was the quite the right word, its something better than that.

  7. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, against these there is no law. Galatians 5:21-23

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