Several years ago, I worked for a Jewish attorney (I’ll call him “Joel”) who, along with his parents and sister, was a Holocaust survivor who came to the U.S. from Germany when he was a small child. His extended family was virtually wiped out by the Nazis. I believe his wife’s immediate family were also Holocaust survivors.
I sing with a local community choir, and a few years back we had the privilege of performing the “Holocaust Cantata” on Holocaust Remembrance Day. A number of Holocaust survivors and liberators attended the concert, and the college where we performed had set up a special exhibition of photographs, memorabilia, etc. in recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day. (One especially exciting moment was when one of the liberators met a survivor from the camp he had helped to liberate.)
I was very excited about this concert, and invited Joel and his wife to attend as my guests. Joel expressed elation at the invitation, and I bought the tickets and mailed them to him and his wife.
Three days before the performance, Joel called to tell me that he was sorry but he and his wife could not attend the concert because one of his clients was throwing a birthday party for his (the client’s) 85-year-old mother that day, and he opted to attend that instead. He asked me if I wished to be reimbursed for the tickets, and I told him just to mail the tickets back to me so I could turn them in with the money for the other tickets I had bought. I haven’t spoken with him since (but not because of this).
My question is this: Was I wrong to be hurt by this? I have to admit I was really crushed when he backed out, but of course I didn’t let him know this. In fact, the only person I’ve told is my husband, who disagreed with me when I said I thought what Joel did was rude. His opinion is that the client is Joel’s livelihood and that’s where his first loyalty should be. My opinion is that he accepted my invitation and that constituted a commitment, and he should have explained this to the client (who also happens to be Jewish, so I thought he would totally understand).
What say you out there in e-hell land? 0315-13
Your husband is wrong. We owe our first loyalty to the integrity of keeping one’s word even when it results in a financial loss. When you accept an invitation and respond that you will be delighted to attend, you have done so based on reviewing your calendar and having seen nothing conflicting, you reply that you will be attending. Nothing short of severe illness or death should change that commitment. You gave your word, you keep your word even if something better comes along. Yet we live in a modern culture where people routinely wait until the last possible moment to rsvp to an invitation as they try to maximize their possible options for that particular weekend or evening. And many people think nothing of going back on their word and bailing out of an invitation to go do something they find infinitely more interesting or enjoyable than the first invitation they accepted.
Our word should mean something. When you say you will do X, those around you should have trust that you are a person of your word and you will do X. There is an element of self sacrifice in keeping your word, in the context of invitations, because invariably you will attend an event which happens to coincide with a more attractive situation. People who renege on their acceptance of an invitation are fundamentally selfish as they pursue the best invitations that most make them happy with no regard as to how their sudden change of plans affects the host and hostess.
Joel and your husband have valued a business networking opportunity over the previous commitment to attend the concert at your invitation and your expense. Joel’s desire to increase his business connections was more important to him than the fact that he accepted your offer of paid tickets and has now rejected them. His offer to reimburse you for the price of the tickets was nothing more than another business transaction.
Joel’s client being Jewish actually has no bearing on whether he should be understanding of Joel’s prior commitment to attend the concert. Joel should have said to his client,”I am so sorry, my wife and I cannot attend your party for your mother this year. We have been invited and have tickets to hear the Holocaust Cantata at XXXXX that evening. Please do wish your mother a ‘Happy Birthday’ for us and I look forward to seeing you sometime soon for lunch.” Follow it up with a lovely birthday bouquet of flowers to the client’s mother and all would have been good.