All Commentary
Thursday, March 9, 2017

Never Turn Down Money

It should be a universal principle.

Last night, a man I admire asked me what I would have to drink. I said a martini and it was served. On my way out, I gave him a $10 bill. He said, “thank you; never turn down money.”

We both got a laugh out of this because this has become our general rule. If he offers to pay, I will take it. If I offer to pay, he will take it. It’s a great rule because it keeps the peace. If you don’t want someone to take your money, don’t offer it.

I forget now who first told me the rule: never turn down money. It was some years ago but I’ve applied it and passed it on ever since. It solves a huge range of social problems.

Airline Seating

I was in a bad seat on an airplane and asked the person in front of me if she would switch. I offered $20. She said, “oh no need to pay me. I’m happy to switch.”

It should be a universal teaching and practice. Life would be better.

So I pushed the bill into her hand and looked directly into her eyes and said: “Never turn down money.”

She said, rather sheepishly, having some sense that I was speaking some truth from on high,  “Oh ok,” and took it. Then, I noted, she was enormously happy, happier than she would have been had she done this out of pure humane benevolence. The whole rest of the flight, she sat there thinking, “I’m $20 richer and all I did was move from one seat to another.”

I wonder if she learned the lesson. I think everyone should. It should be a universal teaching and practice. Life would be better.

Family Squabble

When I was a kid, my family went out to dinner with my father’s mom and dad. The bill came. Grandad grabbed it. My father grabbed it back. Then Grandad grabbed again, and my father grabbed it back. The scene was not about the affectionate desire to pay for others. It became a struggle.

Soon they were grunting at each other. Then growling. It didn’t reach the yelling stage, but it came close. It was ugly and contentious.

The rest of us were rather distracted by this. We watched the paying match with horror. Frankly, the whole scene ruined the dinner.

We all parted. But there was bad blood. And the scene created an unforgettably bad experience, as evidenced by the fact that I remember it so well today – and I was probably eight years old at the time.

No More Fighting

Don’t offer if it is not for real.The principle of Never Turn Down Money solves this entirely. If Grandad wants to pay, you say, “Wow, that’s just wonderful,” and, “Thank you so much!” True, he might be taken aback and think, “I didn’t really want to pay. I just wanted to make a gesture that implied I wanted to pay so that I would get public credit, but my real hope was that someone else would pay.”

That only happens once. After that, everyone learns: whomever offers to pay, pays. Don’t offer if it is not for real.

It should be the same when men and women are on dates. If a woman decides to express her independence by pulling out the credit card and grabbing the whole check, let there be no more of these patronizing protests about a gentlemen’s obligation. At that point, the man should just say, Wow thank you so much!

This way you avoid arguments that slog through the tedious history of misogyny, sexism, awkward symbolisms, presumed expectations, secret signalling, and all the muck. It becomes very clean: you offer, you pay. She offers, she pays. Never turn down money.

But What If

More often than not, the refusal of payment is manipulative.

Now, there are some complicating factors. I have a nuclear physicist friend. He bought beer for me and I tried the trick. I gave him a $5 bill and said “never turn down money.” He took it.

But the next time, he outsmarted me. I gave him a $10 to reimburse for Chinese food. He took it. Then he turned around and gave it back to me. He said “never turn down money.”

I was stunned. I had to adhere to my own rule! So I did. In retrospect, maybe this was a lesson to him: never offer money back if you don’t expect the person to take it back.

Professional Too

My father was a ridiculously generous man. He directed music for the church. He was offered payment but he turned it down because he wanted to make a love offering. Eventually the same church hired a full-time guy who did a worse job but he received a salary of $50,000.

My father felt burned and rightly so. He asked the elders why they didn’t pay him. They told him: “Why should we? You did it for free!”

Ouch. He never entirely forgave them for what happened.

He should have accepted the money. Never turn down money. If he then wanted to give it back as a charitable donation, then fine. But at least he would have been affirmed in his value as a human being with talent.

More often than not, the refusal of payment is manipulative. It comes with an expectation that others around you will be grateful. That gratitude doesn’t arrive and then you feel like a chump.

Money brings peace. It brings justice. It brings fairness. It deletes psychological debts. It has a leveling effect that reminds us: we are all, in the end, just human beings, each with equal dignity. The market gives life to this outlook.

Never turn down money.