Answer Lady: February 2009
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Answer Lady: February 2009

In our new column, a wise and witty expert unravels your knottiest ethical dilemmas. This month, an uncouth cousin, a greedy sister, and an expedient cook strain the ties of family and friendship.

Q. In her will, my mother left her diamond ring and wedding band to my sister, who was sentimentally attached to them. Sadly, the rings disappeared in the hospital where Mom ultimately died. Without consulting me or our brothers, my sister filed an insurance claim and kept the entire reimbursement. Was this her right?

A. For such a sentimental gal, that sister of yours moves pretty fast. But let's say she'd actually inherited the rings as intended, then consoled herself for her loss by selling them and using the proceeds for two weeks at a spa. You might have been appalled, but you wouldn't have doubted her right to do it. Yes, the rings' disappearance premortem cut a step or two out of the process, but the fact is Mom gave them to Sis -- and you need to get over it. It's not fair, is it? It never is among siblings, and dividing the parental estate is the ultimate strain. So did Mom leave you and the boys nothing? Did the value of the rings dwarf those measly bequests? Did your sister always have better birthday parties? Ah, well. Move on and try to let her off the hook. It's what your mother would have wanted.

Q. Several friends, including one who's an ardent vegetarian, recently came over for dinner. I'm always careful, but this time I forgot to buy vegetable broth for the risotto I was serving, so I just used chicken broth. I didn't tell her and I know she enjoyed the meal. Should I feel guilty?

A. Yes, you should. You slipped this friend a Mickey as surely as if you'd poured her a cup of real coffee and said it was decaf. The difference is, in that situation you'd probably have gotten caught. The fact that she enjoyed the meal is irrelevant. All but the most compulsive vegetarians know that they sometimes end up eating meat products. Waiters lie, elderly relatives are clueless, and restaurants in foreign countries don't always get it. But you're not a Parisian chef or a senile auntie, and your friend trusted you. Go back to being careful.

Q. My cousin, with whom I'm friendly but not close, recently added me to his weekly e-mail blast of jokes. This stuff clutters my inbox, but even worse, the jokes are racist, misogynistic, and vulgar. Should I say something? If so, what?

A. While another racist, misogynist pig could be slapped down, blocked from your inbox, and cut out of your life entirely, your cousin cannot. Alas, you are stuck with him -- and you don't want to have to avoid the man, or do battle with him, at every family gathering. The feud-proof solution is simply to delete his "joke" e-mails without opening them or hit reply and send him a polite note explaining that your inbox is overloaded and you prefer not to receive mass mailings.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2009.

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