dilemma s

A year ago Carrie's sister and her husband won pounds 2m. Although she was genuinely happy for them, and wrote congratulating them, Carrie feels resentful that they've given away none of it, even to relations who are ill or broke. Is she wrong to expect a 'trickle-down'?

Which answer does Carrie want? The right answer or the real answer? The right answer, of course, is that she should glory in her family's good fortune, expect nothing for herself, and never refer to the monstrous windfall again - except, of course, occasionally to mention how much her sister and brother-in-law deserved their good fortune.

So much for the right answer. But let's get down to brass tacks. Carrie asks timidly if she's wrong to expect a "trickle-down". I ask what she's afraid to ask, which is: who do these mean and greedy pigs, these niggardly, ungenerous swine, these penny-pinching misers, these tight-fisted Scrooges think they are?

Yes, we all have an idea of how Carrie's sister's mind works - because it's probably how ours might work in the same situation. When she and her husband won, no doubt they thought they'd give some of the money away. Then they thought they'd wait a bit while the dust settled, and after a few months what happened? Suddenly, they found they couldn't do without the lolly. No, not without a penny of it. They'd got it all stitched up in shares and bonds which would give their children incomes for life, but there really wasn't anything left over for the rellies and friends, and anyway the insurance on the new house and the BMX and the Matisse was crippling; their standard of living had risen so swiftly and steeply that, good heavens, how could anyone possibly live without a pounds 2m bonanza?

I'm afraid it's all simply a justification for meanness, and Carrie should not forget that. Most of us are so preoccupied with slapping down any feelings of grabbiness in ourselves, of beating ourselves up at the merest sniff of any unwholesome feeling that smacks of greed, that we find it difficult, often, to condemn those who don't give to us. Rather than saying, properly, that they are greedy to keep their money, instead we condemn ourselves as being greedy to want it.

Money isn't love, and a parent who doesn't love a child will never make it feel cherished, however many expensive gifts it chucks in its direction. But a close and apparently affectionate relation who does not share her good fortune, be it material like money or emotional, like pieces of spiritual wisdom, is ungenerous and unloving. And let's not forget that two million quid is a heck of a lot of money. Carrie's sister and brother-in-law could write 20 cheques for pounds 10,000 each and barely make a dent in their fortune.

Unless she and her sister have a tempestuous relationship, full of hate and resentment, Carrie is right to expect not just a modest "trickle-down". No, she should get at very least an April shower.

Her own dignity will, presumably, prevent her from ever speaking about it, for she knows too well how easily her sister could accuse her of greed. She will have to stay silent. But as long as she is certain that she really would behave generously in a similar situation, she must never forget that her sister has shown her true colours. She may be superficially loving, she may be entertaining and fun, but deep down she is a mean and ungenerous woman. And that means being mean and ungenerous not just in financial areas of her life but, almost certainly, every other area of life as well.

Carrie's sister has gained pounds 2m. Carrie has gained no money, but an extremely useful piece of information about her sister's personality.

readers' responses

If Carrie's sister loves her siblings in the usual way, she will give them what they need. Her sense of duty would ensure she did so even if natural warmth and generosity were in short supply. So why has she kept it all to herself? What role has her husband played in the decision?

It is possible that Carrie's sister is simply selfish and callous. She'd have to be a pretty severe case. Is it that she is reacting against emotional pressure from her family? Is she afraid that if she starts giving, her relatives' demands will cease only when she has nothing left for herself?

If I were Carrie I would not simply tell myself the sister is being unreasonable and selfish. I would ask myself very seriously, with as much objectivity as I could muster, what forces are working on her sister against the natural assumption that she would share her good fortune.

G Puckett

Kent

Yes, of course people who win vast sums of money should trickle some of it down to their siblings. I certainly would and I believe that my family would expect if of me, as I would of them.

We have already planned (should we be so lucky) to put aside a certain amount for family and close friends, and then set up a charity which we would run ourselves - that way everyone is happy. Fingers crossed for this weekend!

Mrs V Baker

Avon

I feel Carrie should try the "schadenfreude principal" and compare her family's lot with those less fortunate. When one comes into easy money, it's extremely difficult to give generous handouts to all and sundry, including family.

Carrie's family has already sent the lucky ones good wishes and, whatever happens next, they mustn't humiliate themselves by going "cap in hand".

Bernard Goodsall

Avon

Carrie asks whether it is "unreasonable" for herself and her "extended family", who have "serious financial and health problems", to expect to share some of her sister and brother-in-law's pounds 2m winnings. Why should they? After all, Carrie can't be that close to her sister if she had to "write" to congratulate her. Maybe it's only the money that Carrie is interested in, not her sister.

If she was "genuinely happy" for them, she wouldn't give the money another thought. This sounds like a case of jealousy and greed. Why should her sister bale her out of her problems? Has she ever helped her sister in her times of need? She should remember that you only get out of a relationship what you put into it.

Glen Summers

Lincolnshire

I reject absolutely the idea that we have automatic financial obligation to family members (other than our own parents and children) which should take priority over all other demands. If we become well-off by hard work or good luck we should extend our compassion to family and friends and to the wider world of charities and pressure groups beyond. However, we should allocate money on the basis of need, relations included, but also, emphatically, on the basis of preference. The term "family" covers a multitude of sins. Why should we bale out a jealous, abusive or overbearing sibling, for example, in favour of a loved friend?

We grow up in a network of sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles and aunts. Though many play to the gallery about how much they have done for us, in reality this often amounts to very little.

Even so, the magic word "family" is often used as emotional blackmail on successful family members who are expected to subsidise others with no thanks, indeed to feel privileged at being allowed to be of assistance.

Mary

London

next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

Last month, an old friend of my husband's came to stay for the weekend with his wife, who we'd never met before. They were perfectly pleasant and brought a box of mints as a house present. I organised a party of 10 people on Saturday night - including another old school friend of my husband's I'd never met, who wrote to thank me for a wonderful evening. I was quite exhausted by Monday morning and so was my husband, and the couple thanked us before they left.

I have heard nothing from them since and I'm absolutely furious. My husband says they're just casual people, they said thank you, after all, and not to get in a fuss. But I feel that if they can't be bothered to write a postcard of thanks at the very least, I never want to see them again. I went to such a huge effort. We literally poured food and drink, including champagne, down their throats, and spent every waking moment driving them round to see places of interest. I feel completely unappreciated. Am I just being old-fashioned?

Yours sincerely,

Althea

All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send any relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, The Independent, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; fax 0171- 293 2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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