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Dear Joseph,
Lately, several of the most high-profile people in my industry--known for their cruelty to employees (including me) as well as for their talent--have been failing miserably and publicly. Their staffs are deserting them in droves. I'm trying not to gloat--can you help me? --Gloating

Dear Gloating,
Your final words imply that you're feeling guilty. Yet if your letter is an accurate portrayal of what's happened, perhaps you shouldn't. What exactly is wrong about feeling happy that people known for their "cruelty to employees" are experiencing professional failure? The alternative--being happy at their successes--would also mean feeling happy at their opportunity to go on being cruel to others who are unfortunate enough to work for them.

Does this mean that all gloating about the suffering of those who have hurt us is okay? No. What exonerates you from guilt in this case is that you are experiencing happiness that these people's cruelty in the workplace is now being rewarded by the workplace being cruel to them. However, it would be wrong, and destructive of your character, to gloat were they forced to resign their positions because, say, they needed to take care of a child stricken with a virulent disease. In such a case, you might be pleased that they no longer were in a position to hurt others, but it would be wrong to rejoice.

The question of how much gloating is a separate one. It seems to me that it's all right to express your pleasure to those friends and relatives who are aware of how much you suffered while working for the "high-profile people," and to other former fellow-suffering employees. But limit the number of people to whom you speak about the situation. This is self-serving advice as well. Gloating about the sufferings of others won't do much for your reputation; people might well conclude that you're a vindictive person.

Also, now that these people have fallen, see if you can distance yourself from your anger and find room in your heart for some compassion for them. I stress both words, compassion as well as some.

Finally, if you want some good to come out of your gloating, think through what it is that these people did that really hurt you and others--and then make sure that you don't act similarly to other people. A lot of us who are geniuses at recalling every slight we've experienced are far less insightful at noting the emotional suffering and cruelties we inflict on others.

Dear Joseph,
I live in New York City and am daily confronted--sometimes it feels like hounded--with requests from beggars. Should I give them money, knowing as we all do that that many of them will probably use the money to buy drugs or liquor? Yet, when I just pass beggars by, I feel uncomfortable with myself.
--Guilty in the Big Apple

Dear Guilty,
I know few people who have a consistent policy regarding donations to beggars. Those who believe one should give to beggars rarely wind up handing out coins to every person who asks them. In many parts of New York City, where I, like you, live, such a policy would cause one to be giving to people about once every two minutes, a very time-consuming and expensive proposition. One day years ago, when begging was still common in the city's subways, my wife and I were accosted by so many beggars that I later commented, "It would have been cheaper had we gone by taxi."

On the other hand, I find it hard, if not impossible, to walk past a person who says to me, "I'm hungry. Could you give me money so I could get something to eat?" My mother, Helen Telushkin, likewise gives money to beggars who tell her that they're hungry. She has told me that when she feels hungry, she finds the pangs so painful that she can't imagine not helping a person who is hungry.

But what if the person soliciting the money is lying? He or she just wants your money to buy alcohol or drugs. In such a case, if I give the money, I will have been fooled. The question is, which is preferable: to avoid giving to anyone, including those who truly are hungry, because some beggars are deceivers, or to give to all who claim hunger, knowing that some are liars? To me, the latter course seems morally preferable. As the Protestant theologian C.S. Lewis wrote: "It will not bother me in the hour of death to reflect that I have been 'had for a sucker' by any number of impostors; but it would be a torment to know that one had refused even one person in need."

Send your questions for Joseph Telushkin to: Please include "Telushkin" in the subject line.

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