Dear Tell All: I am in a situation with two friends. Both of them are relatively new friendships. One friend claims that he has end-stage cancer and will be leaving this world in about six months. I have no reason to believe or disbelieve him other than the fact that he has been asking our other friend for money for testing. He said he needed some money so the doctor could run a test to stage his cancer. I had cancer and was uninsured. I still had surgery and treatment and a lengthy hospital stay and no one ever asked for money. Am I right to be suspicious? I really think he is taking advantage of someone I perceive to be naive and vulnerable. What should I do?
Trying to Be a Friend Indeed!
Dear Trying: Being a good friend requires discerning when to act and when to restrain oneself. How many times have you bitten your tongue about a not-so-flattering skirt on your best gal pal or about a friend's cloddish new love interest? Silence is often the best option. In time, these things usually work themselves out.
Clearly, the stakes are higher here. You don't want to be the unfeeling jerk who calls Friend 1 a lying, cancer-less grifter, and you don't want to be the potential patsy along with Friend 2. You definitely don't want to hear an aggrieved "Why didn't you say anything before?" if Friend 1 happens to run off to Kauai with Friend 2's money.
The answer is simple. Butt out. You can offer to discuss your own experience with your illness and treatment honestly with either friend. Let them listen and evaluate - if one or the other finds a puzzling gap, they can decide to investigate. Maybe Friend 1 really is being bilked by the hospital. You can celebrate the good fortune of being allowed to deal just with your illness and not with hospital bills.
Here's a handy rule that's been attributed to many sources, including Buddhists, Quakers and Ke$ha (well, not really): Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Apply this statement to whatever comes out of your mouth, and you'll be a good friend to all.
Do you have a question about life or love in Madison? Write Tell All, 101 King St., Madison, WI 53703. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.