Life Advice



Using Manners Can Look Very Similar To 'being Handled'

Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin on

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Why is it more polite to evade, deflect or dance around annoying or unwanted behavior?

I can't stop doing something if I don't know it is bothering someone, and I frequently wish people would just be clear on what they want, or don't want, when dealing with me. I can then decide to either amend my behavior or disengage, depending on the circumstances.

Does the average person really feel more comfortable being handled than simply being told they have an irritating habit? Why is waiting and hoping that someone picks up unspoken cues that you dislike them/their dog/their politics/whatever non-arrestable offense somehow the more polite option? Why not make your stance clear, and then see if they correct it or opt to just leave you alone after the truth is made known?

GENTLE READER: How do you expect people to react when you say you dislike them? And just why would they then want to correct themselves, as you put it, in the hope of pleasing you?

Do you appreciate being graded by someone with no authority over you, and would you strive to please such a person?

Miss Manners finds the approach you favor particularly offensive because there are face-saving ways to make these points -- pleading busyness to keep from fraternizing with someone you dislike, claiming not to do well with dogs to avoid them, and agreeing not to discuss politics if you cannot do so civilly.


These techniques are exactly what you contemptuously call handling.

There are people to whom you can safely say, Now cut that out; you're driving me crazy -- namely, your own minor children. And there are some who will stop when you say, That bothers me —- but they are people who know that you are extremely fond of them, if not of their dogs.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I are in a couples book group, which has been meeting virtually since the start of COVID-19. Because my sister lives in a remote area, I thought it would be nice to invite her to a one-time session for a particular book discussion, with the permission of the group.

Once the discussion began, she commented that two of the men seemed to be monopolizing the conversation. She was a guest, and the manner in which the comment was delivered stunned me.


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