Dear Ethical Minds,
My family moved over the summer and in the process of packing, I found a pair of my brother’s ex-girlfriend’s pearl earrings. I asked him what to do with them and he said to hang on to them since they’re not communicating right now (their breakup was pretty rough). Now six months have gone by and he still hasn’t done anything with them. Should I send them to her or is that my brother’s responsibility?
Girl With the Pearl Earrings
Dear Girl With the Pearl Earrings,
Ah, the remnants of a relationship. Almost everyone who has ever gone through a breakup ends up with some unwelcome reminders of their once-significant other. A hoodie, a baseball cap, a lingering, lacey thong … a pair of pearl earrings. Whereas many of those things could probably go unreturned (who wants the memories, anyway?), something as expensive and personal as pearl earrings should be returned promptly. While most jaded lovers have to suck it up and make the exchange themselves, your brother has snookered you into this situation along with him.
You may feel like returning the earrings is your brother’s responsibility, not yours, and that is true to a degree. Ideally, your ethically-minded brother would have offered to return them himself. However, since he has failed to make any such steps in the past six months and seems unlikely to start now, the responsibility falls to you. As a presumably neutral third party and the one in possession of the earrings, you also have the opportunity to smooth over the general weirdness of the situation.
After all, what do you have to lose? You may not be particularly fond of your brother’s ex for breaking his heart, but it’s clear from your letter that you’re not so resentful that you’re going to wear the earrings yourself. Despite the initial awkwardness of establishing contact, sending the earrings should be a relatively painless process.
In the end, everyone wins. The ex has her earrings back, your conscience is cleared and your brother lives another day in non-confrontational peace.
McKinley Sherrod ’14 and Lizzie Thoreson-Green ’14 accept ethical dilemmas posed by the campus. Submit your queries to email@example.com
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