Q: I have a severely disabled friend who lives far away. Sometimes we chat on the phone and sometimes I write letters. The letters must be read to her by caregivers whom I have never met.
When I was writing a letter that continued our last phone conversation, the subject turned to both religion and politics. While my views are decidedly not extreme, it occurred to me that they might conflict with those of the caregivers. What used to be simple disagreement so often seems to turn to offense these days.
When writing to my friend, must I consider the possible views of her caregivers and stay away from controversial subjects? Or may I treat my letter as a private conversation, even though I know strangers will be reading it?
A: As you have never met the caregivers, it would be difficult to know what would meet their standards of acceptable conversation. However, Miss Manners assures you that there is no requirement that you do so. Well-trained caregivers are often called upon to be a social companion, but should know that the kindness they are providing in reading your letter is different — it is to enable the beneficiary to enjoy something she would otherwise have missed: a letter from a friend.
Q: My wife and I have attended several baby showers for friends and relatives this past year.
There is one friend in the group who seems particularly passive-aggressive about these affairs, often opining on overpopulation, American consumerism, Americans’ waste, etc. Personally, I’d like to put her out on her keister. But my wife and her friends just roll their eyes at each other when she begins her litany.
Is my only recourse to follow my wife’s lead and simply roll my eyes, or is it safe to engage her in a debate?
I can debate quite civilly, but I also know this woman to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation — that may be my motive for engaging her, truth be told. I am so tired of her self-righteous statements, and I know others are also wearying of them. Do I commit a faux pas by responding to her when she begins spewing her nasty opinions?
A: First, let us rule out further eye-rolling — rudeness does not justify further rudeness. And a debate about population growth will neither silence the opinionated nor endear you to the hostess.
But if you cannot return rudeness for rudeness, Miss Manners does not lay the same ban on exchanges of righteous indignation. The next time your wife’s friend complains about overpopulation, put on your most horrified look and say, “Surely you are not talking about the birth we are all here to celebrate?” Then walk away, leaving any follow-up debate to others.
Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.