As much as I would like to help out our friends, they have put me in a very awkward position. Their only child was wait-listed at an ivy league college where I guess I have some pull. The parents think my importance is more powerful than it is, because I did assist mutual friends in a similar situation. The difference is that this particular applicant has a sense of entitlement that makes him obnoxious and he doesn’t appear to be as qualified as he should be to be an acceptable candidate. What is my social obligation to these friends who are also our longtime neighbors, which is why I know the applicant well?
–Anonymous, Providence, RI
Because they are your neighbors and friends, whom you’ll be encountering for years to come, you have to write a letter. If you don’t, your refusal will haunt you. Nevertheless, you do not have to make a special phone call, nor do you have to give the parents a copy of your letter. In the letter, you should stress how long you have known the candidate. Then say something kind about him, but use restraint. Don’t lie or exaggerate. You should also mention how much you respect the parents — if that feeling is genuine.
This way you have filled your obligation to the extent that you are able. The powers that be, who will be deciding the fate of the candidate, will not base their decision on your letter alone.
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Accepting A Compliment