1. BC

    I have trouble keeping my big mouth shut. I know it’s not polite to discuss religion or politics, but another (big) part of me feels that I have to stand up for what I believe in. Where do you draw that line? When do you speak up (and how do you go about doing it without putting people off?) and when do you keep quiet? It’s something I’m really struggling with. :(

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      In general, you should only discuss politics, religion, and anything else that might be upsetting for some around people where you already have an idea of where they stand on the subject and know their personalities well enough to know they aren’t going to get riled up. If you are asking if you can respond someone else bringing up one of these subjects, a trick I like to use that allows me to respond while staying within the lines is to keep my comments in the third person. So if someone makes a comment about politics, I say something like “politically speaking theirvstrategy should be…” This also allows me to correct false statements “well actually the unemployment rate …”

    • Nina

      If someones holds an opinion contrary to yours, and you would both genuinely like to discuss it, I think there’s no problem doing so in a courteous, respectful manner–unless of course the conversation makes others in attendance uncomfortable, in which case you should save it until later.

      It’s never polite to yell at someone or berate them, but you can always politely say you disagree and explain why. The personal judgement comes with–do you think that other person will actually listen to you, or just wants a big argument? Because if it’s probably the latter, why upset yourself and others present when you won’t be listened to? Then the most polite choice is to spare all concerned, say, “I disagree,” shrug, and walk away.

      I would also argue that the most polite thing to do when someone is using hate speech where others can hear is to tell them it must stop. I’ve seen a guy on the bus tell someone using racist language to shut up, and thought that’s not formal etiquette, it made everyone else on the bus much happier.

    • Jerry

      Generally, you need to use your judgment. Many conversations about religion or politics are people just talking. You should feel free to join that conversation and state your views, whatever they may be. But the general rule is that you get to respond in kind to whatever is thrown at you — if the conversation turns nasty, you get to respond in kind. If you wouldn’t take physical abuse, why would you tolerate an environment that is verbally abusive? (Nina’s last paragraph actually encapsulates this beautifully. If you saw someone getting beaten up by a mugger, you would confront them or call the police. Same thing if you hear someone using hate speech.)

      You can also disarm a conversation that’s going in a wrong direction. I do this by telling the offending party, “I wholeheartedly disagree with those views. But rather than get into a heated discussion, which given our respective personalities could turn very heated and ruin everyone’s good time, let’s just drop it.” (I’ve done this at family gatherings and professional events.) By saying this, you’ve given the other person the last clear chance to avoid the discussion.

      You keep quiet when speaking up could hurt you financially and you are not willing to accept the pain that the speaker could inflict. (These situations should be fairly rare.)

  2. Melissa

    I have a question about becoming friends with people you know in a professional manner.

    For many years, the people that I would spend the most social time with (going to a movie, a museum, or getting drinks) were my co-workers. Now, many of my past colleagues have either moved away or started families. I, on the other hand, went back to school and am now a professor. I spend most of my time during the day with college students, who obviously won’t fill in the gap and the other members of my department are much older. On the other hand, I find myself having truly interesting conversations with people like my hairdresser, my doctor, and my real estate agent. Is it possible to develop friendships from these professional relationships or should I not even consider it any further?

    • Why not? Who place limits on friends?
      First of all, I like that you, Professor Melissa, don’t consider anyone (such as your hairdresser) to be beneath you in terms of friendship. No one should think this way, but we see it all the time. I only caution you to not press anyone to be your friend. I’m sure you know that real friendships develop slowly. When there’s a great new museum exhibit in town, and both of you are looking forward to it, why not invite the other person out with you?
      You seem like a happy person looking for nice people everywhere. I think you’ll be fine in the friend department.

      I happen to be friends with the girl who cuts my hair! We’ve been having such a fabulous time on Thursday evenings since her husband has been deployed to Afghanistan. My point in sharing is that you never know who else might be needing that extra friend during a difficult time. :)

  3. Melissa

    Thanks Laura! Life must be so limiting when you think of people as being beneath you! :)

    Thank you too for the reminder that real friendships develop slowly. It’s an important one to remember!

  4. blissbeads

    I have a question regarding a clothing swap that I am trying to coordinate. How do I establish rules/courtesy when I send out the invite to folks?

    • Elizabeth

      Well, clothing swaps are relatively common, but some people may not be aware of the procedure and etiquette of such an event. In the invitation, I would start out by making the event sound fun and beneficial (get rid of your old clothes, find new ones, make friends!), but I would also include the fine print: the rules for how clothes are swapped, what are the expectations for what people bring and leave with, if they can bring friends, and most importantly a general explanation of how it works. You want to make it sound well-organized and fair, but not too structured so that people get turned off. I wonder if you couldn’t find some verbage out there on the interwebz that you could then tweak.

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