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What to do when someone wants you to do something you think is slightly unethical?
April 11, 2007 7:16 AM   Subscribe

How do you handle situations when friends or family ask you to do something that you do not think is quite ethical, and yet it really isn't that big a deal?

Occasionally I encounter situations where a friend or family member is asking me to do something that I don't think is quite ethical. These are not huge things - just small things. For instance, I just had a relative, who I like tremendously and does so much for me, ask me to bid up one of their ebay auctions. This relative is a great person (I'm not interested in someone trying to convince me otherwise). I'm really not comfortable doing this. In fact if it wouldn't offend them I'd prefer to just give them any money to cover what additional amount they would make by having me bid on the item.

I usually just try to ignore things like this but sometimes must respond. I'm really not interested in preaching or converting the people in these situations to my viewpoint. Like I indicated above, in the situations I'm referring to, these are small things that I'd just prefer not to do but I don't think makes them a terrible person for doing.

My question is what is a good way to handle such a situation without offending? Do you feel it's best to just go ahead and do what they ask?
posted by tr45vbyt to Human Relations (53 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
DU covered the appropriate response beautifully yesterday.
posted by desjardins at 7:23 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Years ago I lost my best friend over an issue like this. I don't regret it.

Her dog, which was the apple of her eye, died in the spring. Over the summer she asked me to adopt a dog for her. I asked why she didn't just do it herself and there was a long complex explanation of why. It had something to do with the fact that her auto registration wasn't in her name and she had outstanding tickets and they ran a credit check or somesuch (I really don't remember the details beyond the fact that it had to do with going to the Department of Motor Vehicles). At any rate, I didn't want to be the "responsible party" to this little pup is she couldn't even be bothered with updating her address of record to comply with the policies of the adoption facility.

I told her that I wasn't comfortable doing this because if anything happened to the dog I would be the one responsible. She blew up at me and never spoke to me again.

I think I made the right choice.

My advice? Go with your gut. If you were to do this and it's discovered you risk losing your eBay account. You may be at risk for other actions, but I'm not sure. It's fraud.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:32 AM on April 11, 2007


"I'm not comfortable doing that."

when they ask why not, repeat.

if they respect you, they'll listen. if they don't respect you, then that's a whole other question to ask.
posted by Stynxno at 7:37 AM on April 11, 2007


"I know this might sound silly, but I'm really just not comfortable doing that."

No further explanation should be necessary.
posted by tastybrains at 7:39 AM on April 11, 2007


Um, next time I will preview. What Stynxno said.
posted by tastybrains at 7:40 AM on April 11, 2007


The classic sentence along these lines, of course, is "I would prefer not to."
posted by box at 7:41 AM on April 11, 2007 [3 favorites]


"I know this might sound silly, but I'm really just not comfortable doing that."
Yeah that is the simplest, most honest, and direct thing to say and yet for some reason I usually cannot bring myself to say it in these situations. I guess I feel bad about potentially making them feel bad. The closer I am to them the easier it is for me.

I'm such a coward - it's almost pathetic.
posted by tr45vbyt at 7:46 AM on April 11, 2007


For instance, I just had a relative, who I like tremendously and does so much for me, ask me to bid up one of their ebay auctions.

For this instance, I would try to politely point out that ebay auctions jump up dramatically in the last hour, and that wouldn't your relative be pissed if someone had bid up something they were bidding on.

I personally wouldn't bring up the fact that it is against ebay's rules, so much as try to get them to see the impractical nature of what they're suggesting.
posted by drezdn at 7:50 AM on April 11, 2007


The consequences of 'shill bidding' (bidding on an auction to artificially increase the eventual sale price to an unsuspecting genuine purchaser) if you're caught, are, at the very least, a ban for life from eBay and at worst an indictment for wire/mail fraud.

Your relative is asking you to do something that's morally questionable and also potentially illegal. Go with your gut feeling on this.
posted by essexjan at 7:52 AM on April 11, 2007


I guess I feel bad about potentially making them feel bad.

That's what the "I know this sounds silly" is for. It makes it seem like this is your issue, not their issue for doing something slightly underhanded. If you say it nicely, no one should feel put out.

In the long run, your honesty will be appreciated more than if you ignored their requests or just did whatever they ask.
posted by tastybrains at 7:55 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


I guess I feel bad about potentially making them feel bad.

What tastybrains said, and more: Keep in mind that they are making you "feel bad" by putting you in an awkward position. tastybrains gives you a graceful way out.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:10 AM on April 11, 2007


Sometimes these things go easier if you imagine them a few steps out from just your response. So

you: "I know this might sound silly, but I'm really just not comfortable doing that."
them: "But after all I've done for you!"
you: "It would make me feel awkard and bad and I'm concerned about my eBay reputation. I know it's not that big a deal but it's not something I'm comfortable doing and I'm not going to do it. I'm sorry, good luck."

you: "I know this might sound silly, but I'm really just not comfortable doing that."
them: "you're being a wuss!"
you: "be that as it may, this is not something I feel comfortable doing"

you: "I know this might sound silly, but I'm really just not comfortable doing that."
them: "now that's just stupid, no one will know, what is your problem?"
you: "I said it sounded silly. This is just a decision I made for myself a long time ago (concerning ebay/concerning my own moral compass/concerning online sales) and I don't think it's something I want to reconsider."

you: "I know this might sound silly, but I'm really just not comfortable doing that."
them: "but how am I going to solve problem X that I can't solve without your help?"
you: "well maybe there is another way to improve your ebay auctions, I'd be happy to talk to you about that."

In short, make the interaction about you, make your decision final, don't get browbeaten by other people. If they harangue you about it, you cal always add "please don't put me in a position where I have to do something that goes against (the rules/my values/my personal code of conduct).

At some level, most people know they're bending the rules in situations like this and you can appeal to some other authority and discuss your relationship to that so it doesn't become a situation where you don't like your relative enough to want to help them with this "eensy weensy deception".
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 AM on April 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


You don't need to predicate your response with "I know this sounds silly", because it doesn't. It is your relative who is being silly. They owe an explanation, not you.
posted by mkultra at 8:14 AM on April 11, 2007


Yeah that is the simplest, most honest, and direct thing to say and yet for some reason I usually cannot bring myself to say it in these situations.

Yes, but it's the most simple, honest and direct thing to say. Learn to say it. Learn to tell them to shove it if they give you any trouble for saying it. Explain, if they're tenacious, that you're being asked to compromise your principles, and ask why the would ask you to do that.

You'll have to learn by doing, and it may go clumsily the first couple of times, but stick to your guns. Do not roll over on your ethical beliefs just because someone might not approve of you sticking to them; what good are your ethics unless you actually stand by them?
posted by cortex at 8:18 AM on April 11, 2007


That's what the "I know this sounds silly" is for. It makes it seem like this is your issue, not their issue for doing something slightly underhanded.

That's true - it's just that for some reason I continue to feel bad. I so like to avoid these situations that I'm thinking of just emailing a friend (whom my relative does not know) and having him bid so high that he wins the auction no matter what. I'll pay for the item and then I can bid on it without having any of the ethics questions. Fortunately this relative doesn't sell much on ebay less I'd probably end up owning quite a bit of junk.
posted by tr45vbyt at 8:21 AM on April 11, 2007


it's just that for some reason I continue to feel bad.

Conflict makes us feel bad. They're putting you in a situation where your desire to be liked or well thought of is in conflict with your desire to not be shoved around inappropriately.

Making end-runs around the situation may reduce the visibility of your sense of conflict in the eyes of the friend/relative putting you there, but this question is clear evidence that you're still conflicted, still feeling bad. The difference is that you're keeping it to yourself, which might be great for martyrs but is a lousy place for someone just living their life.

You need to, in the most positive and non-snarky sense, grow a spine. Don't be a throw-rug. Say no.
posted by cortex at 8:27 AM on April 11, 2007


If you do that though, tr45vbyt, it's entirely possible that they'll try selling alot more on ebay, considering their initial success.

This book might be of use to you.
posted by drezdn at 8:28 AM on April 11, 2007


make your decision final, don't get browbeaten by other people
Learn to tell them to shove it if they give you any trouble for saying it.

I understand what jessamyn, mkultra and cortex are getting at and I'm certain that if I told this relative that I didn't want to do it because I'm not comfortable with it that they wouldn't browbeat me or give any trouble. I think what it boils down to is that I kind of feel like no matter what I say it's a chastisement of their morals/ethics. I honestly don't feel right about doing this. I mean I have tons of problems myself - it almost seems a little self righteous. In fact I'm certain that in many ways this relative is a better person than I.

what good are your ethics unless you actually stand by them?

I do absolutely agree with this. It does seem like my solution of just buying the item gets me out of this one.
posted by tr45vbyt at 8:37 AM on April 11, 2007


I always like to offer an alternative suggestion and then resort to the "not comfortable with that" reasoning if they persist in asking. For instance, what's wrong with just saying something like "ebay really frowns on that sort of thing, to make sure your auction ends at a price you are comfortable with, try setting a reserve or starting the bidding at the lowest price you'll accept" and if they still press you, then you can say that you aren't comfortable doing that. In flamingbore's case, I would have just said "why don't you just wait till you get your address and records situation straightened out, it'll be better in the long run if you are able to adopt the dog yourself" if the friend persisted, then flamingbore could say "don't feel comfortable."

I tend to assume that people get so caught up in whatever the end result is that they lose sight of what is and isn't ethical. Instead of preaching and embarrassing them, I prefer to treat their request as if they asked me what would be the best way to achieve their desired outcome (as opposed to asking me to perform the requested less-than-ethical action). Sometimes this helps them to discern right from wrong on their own. If they still don't get it and press me to do the requested action, then I'll bring out the "I don't feel comfortable doing that" or "I'd rather not do that."
posted by necessitas at 8:37 AM on April 11, 2007


You need to, in the most positive and non-snarky sense, grow a spine.

I know this is true.

If you do that though, tr45vbyt, it's entirely possible that they'll try selling alot more on ebay, considering their initial success.

I hope not but I've already been envisioning myself taking truckloads of stuff to the local goodwill and ending up as top income provider for their household.
posted by tr45vbyt at 8:45 AM on April 11, 2007


I agree with those who say to sugar-coat what you say; I've gotten a lot better results that way than when I've John-Wayned it.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:46 AM on April 11, 2007


For instance, what's wrong with just saying something like "ebay really frowns on that sort of thing, to make sure your auction ends at a price you are comfortable with, try setting a reserve or starting the bidding at the lowest price you'll accept"

I might try something like this or "you know we could both end up losing our accounts if I do that - and I just can't afford to lose mine". That seems less like I'm so ultrapure and righteous and more just like I'm worried about a bad outcome.

Drezdn - thanks I'll take a look at that book.
posted by tr45vbyt at 8:54 AM on April 11, 2007


I'm confused about the point of this question. There's only one answer, tr45vbyt, and you've gotten it from several sources including not one but two moderators. Jessamyn and Cortex are absolutely right: you have to say you're sorry, but you're not comfortable doing this. It's illegal and immoral, and just buying the item doesn't address the underlying issue, which is what you asked about in your questions, it just makes this particular case go away. So that's the answer and I umpteenth what everyone else has said -- you have to turn this into a learning experience, man up, and say "No", whether you do that with wiggle words that make it sound like your problem or not.

But here's my question: if (i) there's only one logical and moral answer to this question; and (ii) you seem to know that from the way you phrased the question; and (iii) half a dozen thoughtful people have given it to you; but (iv) you repeatedly reject that (obvious) answer on the grounds that you just can't face it then why did you ask the question in the first place? You already know what you're going to do!
posted by The Bellman at 8:56 AM on April 11, 2007


Dear tr45vbyt,

Even if things are uncomfortable in the moment, even if your relative feels guilty or ashamed for a moment, it will only last a moment, or a day, or at most a few days. Your honesty will help your relative get to know you better, and more importantly, will let that person know that you respect him enough to tell the truth.

This is very important: telling the truth to a person, especially when it makes you uncomfortable, is a sign of respect. It shows that you believe that the person is intelligent and mature enough to look beyond that one moment or that one issue, and to see that you value him too much to evade a difficult issue.

The first time will take a little grit on your part -- but you have that much grit. Just trust that you do and go for it.
posted by amtho at 9:03 AM on April 11, 2007


sounds like you are a stickler.
posted by goldism at 9:09 AM on April 11, 2007


Skip the "I know this sounds silly" part. It doesn't sound silly, and there's no reason to denigrate yourself to make someone else feel better.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:15 AM on April 11, 2007


The alternative to the very good advice above from so many to stand up and be honest is...to be a flake.

If you want to avoid doing something that someone asks you to do, yet you feel uncomfortable about telling that someone why, then simply don't do it. Let the auction come and go, don't bid and if your relative asks you "hey, why didn't you bid on my auction?" say, "I forgot." Repeat action, inaction, and excuse as needed.

It comes down to if you want to cultivate a reputation for honesty or flakiness, your call.
posted by jamaro at 9:22 AM on April 11, 2007


But here's my question: if (i) there's only one logical and moral answer to this question; and (ii) you seem to know that from the way you phrased the question; and (iii) half a dozen thoughtful people have given it to you; but (iv) you repeatedly reject that (obvious) answer on the grounds that you just can't face it then why did you ask the question in the first place? You already know what you're going to do!

I understand your point and as this question progressed I began to realize that perhaps I really wasn't asking the right question. I think that my underlying question actually was: Is it really my place to lecture someone else on the ethics/morals of a particular belief or action of theirs? I mean when I see people with huge moral problems themselves, such as Bill O'Reilly, lecturing people so self-righteously on morals/ethics I just get literally sick.

I'm neither a judge nor jury in a trial of these people. I cannot have an understanding of all their beliefs and how they arrived at them. I cannot look into their souls and see the level of decency that they possess. Sure I can just color everything black and white and say you do this - you're bad and I'm going to let you know about it. But seriously, who the hell am I to stand in judgment of them?
posted by tr45vbyt at 9:22 AM on April 11, 2007


Why don't you just not aquiece to them, and maybe give them a chance to examine their morals themselves?
posted by Four Flavors at 9:34 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Part of the issue here is not the request it's the fact that you see yourself as judging your relative when most people here don't see a negative reply to a request as this sort of exchange at all. In short, if I ask you to drive me to the airport and you say no, that's not a judgment on my needing to go to the airport. To use another more judgey example, if someone asks you out on a date and you say no, at some level you may be judging that person as "not someone I want to date" but it's still totally appropriate, in fact it's pretty well the height of etiquette, to not go out with them just because they asked you, if it's not what you want to do. You need to also include not judging yourself -- why is it not okay for you to do what is approriate for YOU in this case and in others? -- as part of the equation.

Perhaps there is a way to extrapolate this to your relative's request. Do you always say yes to everything anyone asks you to do? Are there situations where you say no where you are not judging them? It's clear that most of the people in this thread giving you advice do not think that it's judgmental of you to not say yes to your relative. You're answering a question about what YOU want to do, you are not answering an unstated question about the ethics of what THEY want to do. If they take it that way, and you're not even sure that they will, that is something they need to grapple with, not you. You may have thin boundaries regarding the expectations of other people, but I'm sure there are other instances with other situations in your life where a "no" to a request is not seen as judgmental to the requestor. Try to make this sort of situation seem more like those situations.
posted by jessamyn at 9:40 AM on April 11, 2007


You are not standing in judgment of them (otherwise you'd be lecturing them not to do it); instead, you're standing in judgment of yourself, which is what makes your refusal acceptable (and probably why Jessamyn recommended saying "this may seem silly", because you're telling them you're cool with them doing it, but not with you being involved).

I would recommend that you make an effort to convey to your friends and family that you have ethical grounds that you can't cross. Do this in normal situations, when you haven't been asked to do something. If, say, the subject of bidding up ebay auctions for a friend came up, you might mention that it's not something you personally could do. That provides you an opportunity to discuss your ethics without having it be tied to a rejection of their requests.

If they know your moral comfort zone before asking, it may avoid some of these situations and give you a better position from which to stand your ground.
posted by stefanie at 9:42 AM on April 11, 2007


Is it really my place to lecture someone else on the ethics/morals of a particular belief or action of theirs?

I guess I'm missing where saying "No, sorry, I can't," a lecture about someone else's values. It's not. It's simply a declaration of your own.

But seriously, who the hell am I to stand in judgment of them?

Right. But the advice above isn't about standing in judgment of others, it's about holding yourself to your own personal standards and explaining to (not evangelizing or browbeating) others where that line is for you. The other person is free to come to their own conclusions, take their own actions, form their own ethical framework. You're just stating you are to be left out of it.

I mean when I see people with huge moral problems themselves, such as Bill O'Reilly, lecturing people so self-righteously on morals/ethics I just get literally sick.

The reason why people like Bill O'Reilly get airtime is because not enough people speak up for what they believe and let Bill form their opinions for them.
posted by jamaro at 9:42 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Is it really my place to lecture someone else on the ethics/morals of a particular belief or action of theirs?

I agree -- lecturing is quite likely to be met with resistance and resentment.

But making choices about your behavior based on your personal ethical system is not at all the same as judging, blaming, or chastising others.

All you have to say is (as so many other have pointed out), "I'm sorry, but I'm not comfortable doing that." If they ask why, say "It's just not something I'm comfortable with." Repeat as necessary.

Remember: it's not about them. It's about you.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:51 AM on April 11, 2007


I have a friend that handles this very well with the "this might sound silly approach." I've recognized what she's doing, almost felt judged, but then didn't. It'd sound like "ha ha -- I guess I'd feel bad for tricking the other bidders, people I don't even know! Isn't that funny? Sorry about that. But I can show you how to set your reserve so you get a better price without having to go through all this."

Myself, I'd feel really weird if I found out you'd gone behind my back rather than telling me directly you didn't want to do something. I'd wonder "Am I such a tyrant you can't just turn me down? Do I seem so sensitive that it would crush me to know you drew your moral line more sharply in one instance than I did?" Personally, if I were your relative, I'd prefer you to be straightforward with me -- it would make me more comfortable making requests in the long run.
posted by salvia at 10:01 AM on April 11, 2007


Well, I don't know enough about you or the person in question to make any definite judgements, so take this with a grain of salt, but it sounds to me like the problem is you do not respect this person at all.

You think something they want you to do is unethical.

You refuse to decline politely, because you think they are so unreasonable that they would see this as an insult.

You plan to create an elaborate hoax in order to fool them into believing that you are someone you are not.

You say that you don't want to imply "you're bad and I'm going to let you know about it," but you seem perfectly comfortable with "you're bad and I will privately think this behind your back without giving you the chance to defend your actions."

If they want you to do something you feel is unethical, even if they do not believe it is, and will be angry or insulted if you refuse, they are a bad person. By not declining, you are assuming that they are this person. By tricking them, you are assuming they are too stupid to understand the problem.
posted by Nothing at 10:03 AM on April 11, 2007


Part of the issue here is not the request it's the fact that you see yourself as judging your relative when most people here don't see a negative reply to a request as this sort of exchange at all.

But making choices about your behavior based on your personal ethical system is not at all the same as judging, blaming, or chastising others.

I totally understand this now.

I'd prefer you to be straightforward with me

As would I. I think I'll do just that but still cushion it with something like the "sounds silly" and let them know it's about me not them.
posted by tr45vbyt at 10:06 AM on April 11, 2007


Is it really my place to lecture someone else on the ethics/morals of a particular belief or action of theirs?

That's a good question, and with specific exceptions it's rarely someone's place to lecture someone else on ethics or morals. People might elect to do it, and I'd say a conversation on the subject (or lecturing/hectoring from either direction) could result from the sort of request you're discussing...but none of that has to do with you declining a request.

Do not conflate "I would rather not" with "I would rather not [insert implicit judgement here]". If implicit judgement is what you're worried about, you really need to start getting angry about the implicit judgement about your own morality/ethics contained in every under-the-table request you recieve from Uncle Ebay or whoever else. And that way lies madness.

Let go of the unspoken implications of judgement; say no to request that make you uncomfortable; refrain from free-form lecture: done. Healthy, ethically-sound interactions.
posted by cortex at 10:09 AM on April 11, 2007


You say you can see past the moral black and white. Open your eyes to the grey that exists between doing whatever other people want you to do despite any moral compass of your own (or going to great lengths to seem like you are doing it when you aren't) and damning someone to hell just for asking you.

Saying "Sorry, man, I just can't help you out with this one," is not even close to the same thing as saying "you do this—you're bad" or going off on an O'Reilly-style rant on them. To suggest that they are similar is a little irrational, don't you think?
posted by lampoil at 10:20 AM on April 11, 2007


I do absolutely agree with this. It does seem like my solution of just buying the item gets me out of this one.

you know, I actually disagree. Being an ethical person is ultimately a benefit to the person who lives an ethical life, and if you can set a good example, you will eventually have a positive effect on other people just by osmosis, so to speak.

Tell them generously and sincerely and without judgment or hostility that you're just not comfortable doing it. Don't find ways to bring about the consequences they're hoping for without technically breaking the rule. Just do things fairly & honestly every chance you get, and do it cheerfully. Lead by example.

They may be minorly annoyed in the moment, but in the long term you have a chance to have an impact on how they understand morality. (but not by forcing it - to really lead by example means don't point to the example, just be the example you would wish to be, the best version of yourself, and leave it up to others to notice it or not. That part isn't your problem)
posted by mdn at 10:21 AM on April 11, 2007


How about the ol' self-deprecating thing with a little bit of humor -- Uch, I'm terrible at stuff like this, I have a hyperattenuated sense of right/wrong, my guilt-chip makes me screw it up, you'll regret asking me to help, find someone who's a better Bonnie/Clyde.

Don't underestimate the value of artful dodging -- it's time honored because it works. Please resist any impulse to advise, lecture, offer a more ethical perspective.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:44 AM on April 11, 2007


tr45vbyt: Yeah that is the simplest, most honest, and direct thing to say and yet for some reason I usually cannot bring myself to say it in these situations. I guess I feel bad about potentially making them feel bad.

A book recommendation: When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, by Manuel Smith.
posted by russilwvong at 10:47 AM on April 11, 2007


You risk trading long-term peace for temporary relief. I understand how difficult this is for you, and I've struggled with this myself. It doesn't seem as simple as saying "No, I'm not comfortable with that" because perhaps you're thinking that even if you don't say WHY you're not comfortable, they'd be wondering about it and conclude that you're judging the behavior. And if you do say why you're uncomfortable, then your judgement of the behavior as something you won't do must imply that they shouldn't do it either.

Yet you know this isn't really true, you're not really trying to apply your moral code to anyone else. You're just verbalizing the moral code you have for yourself. It can take time to really convince yourself that it's okay to walk your own path. You don't really want to be like them, but you're not saying be like me either.

Taking on the attitude "it's not you, it's me", is good because it's true. It takes more than time, it takes consistent action in line with your values and I promise you'll become more comfortable. You won't lose your sensitivity and become a self-righteous prig, and I think on some level you know that. By just giving in and doing whatever it is, you will experience resentment over the internal conflict, resentment that you may bury deep but it will still be there.

The moment you say "I'm not comfortable with that" (or some variation thereof), you will experience an inner peace deeper than you thought possible. At the same time, since you're living in line with your heartfelt values, your mind, body and heart will work together to give you the energy you need to keep going. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but I am saying that in the long-run, you'll feel much more free to be the good person you're trying to be. And I believe that even in the short-term, there can be a sense of relief, because you're now in comfortable territory. You might not think it's comfortable to live in line with your values, but it is.

One last thing, something that really helped me. The Apostle Paul said, "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die." You're trying not to be (self)righteous, doling out judgements, but don't sacrifice your goodness. It is a kindness to others to show them a better way by the way you live your life, and kindness is part of goodness. You may encourage them to seek out their own values and start living in harmony with them. So continue doing kindnesses for others, and live the greater good by embodying a life worth living.
posted by Danila at 11:02 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Long backstory, but the other day sibling A asked me to run interference with sibling B, and to use a pretext. We talked about this and I finally said, I'm just going to tell the truth, but with no attitude, because the real story is okay, and sibling B really will be able to cope with it. Sibling A ended up agreeing with me.

Other than kind lies, like, Yes, that dress (you already bought and are wearing) looks fine, dishonesty and other, even small, unethical behaviors, are very often more complicating and unnecessary than ethical behaviors. It took me a very long time to learn this.

Read The Ethicist's column on NYTimes.com. It's in the Sunday Magazine section. Bidding up an auction is just plain dishonest. All the ways of getting around this get complicated and messy. Saying No, in as polite and friendly a way as possible is a skill that will do you so much good in the long run. In this case, you can offer to give or lend money to your relative: I'd be too worried about getting caught to do that, but if you're really short of cash, let me know.

Another useful skill is redirection. If the person persists, it's hard to keep repeating "I'd rather not." So divert them by asking about their favorite sports team, or their recent gallbladder surgery.

There is a side benefit that the other person will generally have more respect for you when you decline to do something that they know is not right.
posted by theora55 at 11:08 AM on April 11, 2007


How about "If you need money I would be glad to help you out, But I won't commit fraud for you"
posted by Megafly at 11:26 AM on April 11, 2007


I appreciate all (well most) of the advice everybody gave. Thank you very much. I let her know that I couldn't do it and that was that. I feel good about it and it's a relief.

On a side note I was surprised how strongly people felt about shill bidding and ebay. For me it's just something I don't consider ethical and wouldn't personally do. But to call it defrauding someone of money? I bid on a lot of things from ebay and always assume there are shill bidders. What is something on ebay worth? It's worth what the highest bidder is willing to pay. I always decide early on what I'm willing to pay and if I win great. The end result between someone pricing something at what it's truly worth (i.e. what you're willing to pay for it) and at pricing it low and then having an accomplice shill bid it up to what you're willing to pay for it should be the same. Sure the latter is a little underhanded and not forthright. But does it really defraud anyone of money? It shouldn't unless they are just getting caught up in the whole winning at all costs kind of mentality.
posted by tr45vbyt at 11:59 AM on April 11, 2007


You either have to stand up for yourself and say "no" in what ever polite phrasing suits your style, or do something you don't want to do. It's that simple. If you are not strong enough to say what you really think and do what you really want to do, then you'll have to suffer with the consequences. There is no magic phrase ito protect you from the downside of the possible reaction. No is ultimately no, no matter how it is stated.
posted by ljshapiro at 12:05 PM on April 11, 2007


But does it really defraud anyone of money?

Yes, the buyer. He or she would have paid less money for the item, had the bids not gone up so high.
posted by occhiblu at 12:26 PM on April 11, 2007


When I hear someone say "I'm just not comfortable with that" or "That's not ethical (with a reasoned explanation)", it tends to give me a very good impression of the person making that statement, that they are a person who stands up for what they believe.
posted by yohko at 2:43 PM on April 11, 2007


Yes, the buyer. He or she would have paid less money for the item, had the bids not gone up so high.

I disagree - in most these cases the seller isn't actually willing to sell the item for the lower price and that's exactly why they enlisted the help of a shill bidder.
posted by tr45vbyt at 3:00 PM on April 11, 2007


in most these cases the seller isn't actually willing to sell the item for the lower price and that's exactly why they enlisted the help of a shill bidder.

But that seems to suggest they are misrepresenting their auction, doesn't it? If the seller isn't willing to accept less than a certain price, the option of setting a reserve is available. Using a shill bidder is a reserve-in-disguise, albeit with certain dynamic quality, since the shill can keep bidding higher as long as s/he thinks the genuine buyers will respond.

Shill bidding is changing the rules and trying to game the market. When big businesses do this, it's somewhere in the neighborhood of price-fixing. Not cool.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:07 PM on April 11, 2007


I am a librarian so oftentimes friends or acquaintances want me to "do something" about their library fines.

I just sort of laugh and say "oh, I couldn't!" kind of like I thought they were joking, and they generally don't bring it up again.
posted by exceptinsects at 5:15 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


in most these cases the seller isn't actually willing to sell the item for the lower price and that's exactly why they enlisted the help of a shill bidder.

There are two separate ways to ensure you only sell at a price you're comfortable with, the first is to set a reserve price. The second is to list at the lowest price you would be willing to sell the item for. Shill bidding is not only against the rules of ebay, it's against the law.
posted by drezdn at 6:07 PM on April 11, 2007


Shill bidding is not only against the rules of ebay, it's against the law.

Thanks for that link - I wasn't aware of that. Although after doing further research it seems that there is no specific statute that covers shill bidding and if prosecuted it's usually done under wire fraud statutes. I really couldn't find any cases where shill bidders were prosecuted except in cases where the seller was using shills to make others think that the merchandise they were selling was genuine and in actuality it was fake.

At any rate, shill bidding is bad - end of story. My only point was that in most cases it shouldn't defraud people of money.
posted by tr45vbyt at 5:55 AM on April 12, 2007


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