Speaking of ethics and politeness, the difference between what one has a right to do and what is right to do – as we just were in comments on ‘A Valediction Forbidding Nonsense’ – I’ve been pondering a certain pattern of behavior which I’ve seen in a few people I know (especially, but not exclusively, in rich people I know) and find interesting. I should give it a name, for ease of reference – but it’s hard to think of one, because it’s a complicated pattern, with several steps.

Step 1. Volunteer the statement – unprompted by the other party – that you are going to do something. Perhaps something generous or kind or helpful, something extra – give a present, help with a project, loan a valuable object, perform a service, do a favour – something unexpected, welcome, significant. Collect gratitude. Or perhaps just a simple bit of routine scheduling – ‘I will do X on Thursday,’ ‘I will get Y done by the end of the month.’ Collect recognition of duty done.

Step 2. Don’t do it. Don’t give or loan or help with or perform whatever it is. Don’t do X on Thursday, don’t finish Y by the end of the month.

Step 3. Never state the fact. Never say ‘oh by the way I can’t [do whatever it is] after all.’ Never mention it or refer to it.

Step 4. Entailed by Step 3. Never explain. Since you don’t say ‘I’m not going to [do whatever it is] after all,’ it is not possible (or necessary) to explain.

Step 5. Also entailed by Step 3. Never apologize.

That’s it. Say ‘I’m going to give you A’ or ‘I will help you with B’. Then don’t do it; don’t say you’re not going to do it, you’re not currently doing it, you haven’t done it; don’t refer to it at all; ignore it entirely; act as if nothing was ever said, the subject was never mentioned; never explain why you’re not doing it, haven’t done it – much less why the reasons you haven’t done it are good reasons. Never apologize. Never do anything at all, simply proceed on your way as if nothing had happened.

Maybe I should call it ‘the Gaslight deception,’ on the theory that the goal is to make the other party think it was all a hallucination born of insanity.

People of course have a right to do this. But is it the right thing to do? I leave it to your wisdom to decide.

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