Your Money, Your Life or Your Wine

Could offering a cup of human kindness save your life sometime? It helped protect guests from a menacing gunman at a recent Washington, DC, dinner gathering.

Comedian Jack Benny had a famous skit in which an armed robber pointed a gun at Benny, whose comedy often poked fun at his own miserly show business persona. In the routine, Benny told the robber to put the gun down. The robber persisted. “Your money or your life!” demanded the crook, irritated by the delay. “I’m thinking it over,” deadpanned Benny.{1}

Quick thinking helped save the DC dinner guests.

Give me your money!

The Washington Post reports{2} that some friends had enjoyed steak and shrimp at a DC home and were sitting on the back patio sipping wine around midnight. A hooded gunman slipped in through an open gate and held a pistol to a fourteen-year-old girl’s head. “Give me your money, or I’ll start shooting,” demanded the intruder.

The guests—including the girls parents—froze. Then one adult—Cristina “Cha Cha” Rowan—had an idea.

“We were just finishing dinner,” Rowan said to the uninvited guest. “Why don’t you have a glass of wine with us?”

The robber sipped their French wine and said, “Damn, that’s good wine.”

Michael Rabdau, the girl’s father, offered the man the glass. Rowan offered the bottle. The man—with hood down, by this point—sipped more wine and sampled some Camembert cheese. Then he stowed the gun in his pocket and admitted, “I think I may have come to the wrong house. I’m sorry. Can I get a hug?”

Rowan hugged the man. Then Rabdau, his wife and the other two guests each hugged him. The man asked for a group hug; the five adults complied. He left with the wine glass. There were no injuries, no theft. The stunned guests entered the house and stared at each other silently. Police came. Investigators discovered the empty and unbroken wine glass on the ground in a nearby alley.

“I was definitely expecting there would be some kind of casualty,” Rabdau recalled, according to the Post. “He was very aggressive at first; then it turned into a love fest. I don’t know what it was.”

“There was this degree of disbelief and terror at the same time,” Rabdau observed. “Then it miraculously just changed. His whole emotional tone turned—like, we’re one big happy family now. I thought: Was it the wine? Was it the cheese?” The entire encounter lasted about ten minutes. DC police chalked it up as strange but true.

Gentle Answers

An old Jewish proverb says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” {3} I suspect her friends are extremely grateful that Cha Cha Rowan had the presence of mind to offer a gentle reply to the intruder’s demands.

Sometimes the psychological approach can deter disaster. Kindness and hospitality often can defuse tension and help open hearts and minds. Was the robber lonely? Feeling sad or rejected? Weary of his lifestyle? Hungry for acceptance and friendship? Rowan and her friends struck an emotional chord that resonated, apparently deeply.

Brute force and overwhelming arguments are common cultural responses to danger or opposition and, of course, theyre sometimes necessary. Most of us are glad Hitler was defeated and that legislators outlawed slavery. But could gentle answers improve any disputes—or families, marriages, workplaces, political relationships—that you’ve seen?


1. George Grow, “Funnyman Jack Benny Won Hearts Mainly by Making Fun of Himself,” Voice of America News, 21 May 2005; at (accessed July 19, 2007).
2. Allison Klein, A Gate-Crasher’s Change of Heart, Washington Post, July 13, 2007; B01; at (accessed July 17, 2007).
3. Proverbs 15:1 NIV.

© 2007 Rusty Wright