Miss Manners: Put a positive spin on the charge of negativity

September 11, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: After having lunch with a so-called friend, she proceeded to tell me how negative I was and how it drags her down. I think it was because she didn’t like my opinion about the subjects we discussed.

If I am not free to express my opinion, I no longer feel comfortable with her. These were not personal opinions, but were about restaurants, cruises and our local hospital, which I was just in for four days.

Sorry, I can’t be a Pollyanna and say everything is great when it is not.

Should I break ties with this person? Before she spoke, she said I would not like what she had to say, and mentioned that another so-called friend felt the same.

I want to retort, as I was totally dumbfounded and speechless. I agreed to being opinionated, but “negative” is her word.

GENTLE READER: Didn’t she have anything positive to say about you? You might plead that it drags you down to hear such a negative opinion of yourself.

Miss Manners cannot promise that this will stop the lady short and make her blurt out, “I see what you mean” — after which you can share a friendly laugh, and you can offer, “How about if I wait until you finish eating before I criticize the restaurant?”

It is unfortunately more likely to lead to more negativeness — the charge that you cannot accept constructive criticism. But at least that will warn you that your so-called friend’s rule is that it is fine to condemn your friends as long as you refrain from criticizing the hospital.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m caught in a pickle. About a week after I graduated high school, I received a graduation card and a little cash from some relatives my family and I see fairly often (my great-aunt and great-uncle). Unfortunately, I was slow in sending a thank-you card and wasn’t able to mail it to them until weeks later.

A week ago, I received another graduation card from these same relatives, including more cash than in the previous card and a note saying, “Sorry we forgot to send you a card earlier.”

I’m not sure how I should handle this situation. Should I send the card and money back, explaining that this was a mistake? This great-aunt and great-uncle are elderly, and while they are not struggling financially, they are very careful with their money.

GENTLE READER: Your pickle landed splat on the place where etiquette meets ethics.

An etiquette case could be made that it is kinder not to draw the attention of your relatives to their memory lapse. Not so incidentally, this would allow you to pocket this windfall.

However, Miss Manners is not going to make that case. Sorry, but collecting twice from these people, whether or not they can easily afford it, is just wrong.

But let us not abandon the etiquette aspect. You can soften the realization of their mistake by focusing on your own. The letter accompanying your return of the money (the new amount, not the original, smaller one) should begin, “I was so tardy in thanking you for your generous present that you tactfully assumed that I hadn’t received it. But ...”

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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