Ask Ariely: On Green Groceries, Party Presents, and Reluctant Reviews

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Hi Dan.

My wife is pretty involved with green initiatives—in particular, reducing plastic waste. She tries to get bars and restaurants to stop offering plastic straws, she purchases products that do not use plastic packages, and once a month we volunteer to clean up trash in public spaces. So I’m baffled that she doesn’t have the same reaction to wasting food. When it’s her turn to go grocery shopping, she always brings home such an excess of fruits and vegetables that many of them rot before we have a chance to eat them. We’ve had many conversations about this, but nothing has worked so far. What can I do?

—Diégo 

It is often the case that when we care a lot about one thing, we focus on it to the exclusion of other priorities. So don’t take your wife’s behavior too personally, and don’t try repeatedly to educate her about it. Instead, why don’t you simply help by making a shopping list? When we go shopping with a shopping list we are likely to stick to it. If you write down the specific amount of needed fruits and vegetables, the odds are that the waste problem will be solved.

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Hi, Dan.

My son Joey is turning one year old, and we’re throwing a birthday party for him. People usually give toys on such occasions, but I’d like to ask them to give him money instead. How can I do this without seeming rude?

—Felipe 

It’s always tricky to use a social occasion to ask people for money. To sweeten the pill, I would ask people to donate toward a specific goal. For example, what if you told your guests that you want to open a college savings account for Joey? You could ask them not just to give money but also to write down advice for him to read when he goes to college. Ask your guests to write their messages in a book that you can give to Joey when he turns 18.

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Dear Dan,

I have several friends who have self-published books on Amazon. After reading the books, I am usually aghast at the poor quality of the writing, and sometimes there is even a gross twisting of the truth in the retelling of a life experience that I have seen firsthand. Even so, I try to say something positive—without getting into too many details—but then my friends ask me to submit an online review, to go along with all the other five-star reviews they somehow managed to get. I care about my friends, but I also don’t want to give a false recommendation. How would you handle this conflict?

—Jerry 

Life is full of situations where we are asked to trade our integrity for other interests, such as sparing the feelings of a friend. But once we start giving up our integrity, it is a slippery slope: We are likely to do it more and more until at some point we stop feeling bad about it. What does this mean in your case? Writing a positive review of a book you don’t like may seem like a one-time sacrifice of honesty for the sake of friendship. But given that your long-term integrity is also on the line, I would not give it up. Gently decline your friend’s request for a review—but do keep on investing in your friendship.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.