The Key to Discreet Gossiping
By Judith Martin
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page D03
Yes, children, we did used to have blogs. We called them diaries, and they got us into almost as much trouble as yours will get you.
The impulse to record one's every thought, feeling, opinion and experience long predates the home computer. It does not, Miss Manners hastens to add, predate the notions that one has a uniquely sensitive nature to which the world does not show proper attention and appreciation, and that one day it will be realized what a blunder that was on the part of the world.
Friends are not the ideal receptacles for daily confidences that keep making these points, as it does not take long to discover. Their minds wander, causing them to misunderstand or forget what they were told. They are especially prone to forgetting they were told not to tell others. Their emotions don't always come out the way they were supposed to, and they make irritating remarks, such as "You're not being fair" or "I don't see what you're so upset about." Their loyalties shift, leaving them with choice material to use against the very person who supplied it.
Hence, the diary. It had an insatiable appetite for grudges, gossip, love affairs, cultural pronouncements, social criticism and whatever else one chose to put into it. It was the ideal companion, an eager and sympathetic listener who would never betray you in the present but hinted at helping you to fame in the future.
Web logs have a similar lure for those who keep them, with what seem like additional advantages. It is not only that they work faster technologically. They are supposed to supply fame and hordes of eager and sympathetic listeners in the present.
With a diary, the danger was that someone might sneak a peek at it or even steal it and expose one's secrets. With a blog, the fear is that nobody might do so.
Miss Manners realizes that society's ideas about privacy have changed, if, indeed, anyone is still familiar with the concept. Ingeniously, people have found an easier way to cope with what was always considered shameful behavior than attempting to hide it -- or even stopping doing it.
The solution has been to publicize it, and blogs have served as an outlet for those unable to book their confessions on television. Whatever this does for the general tone of society, etiquette has no rule against people spreading unflattering gossip about themselves. Miss Manners would only caution those who do so that both social standards and personal circumstances often change, and they may not always be pleased to have this material floating around.
What is of concern to etiquette is the way bloggers write about other people. Miss Manners has a perhaps more realistic approach to gossip than those who condemn it absolutely, and then go on to more interesting subjects, such as who is doing what to whom. People will always talk about people.
The polite person at least gossips discreetly and without malice. Blogs do not qualify as being discreet. For those who must write down their critical observations about people they know, Miss Manners recommends a small blank book that comes with a lock and key and can be hidden in the sock drawer.
Dear Miss Manners:
Every year at the same time, I have a fish fry/picnic and invite family members. I provide everything from food to eating utensils. We eat outside and use paper plates, but I do have flatware rather than plastic forks.
My sister-in-law always brings her own plate and flatware for herself. I am offended by this. I just wanted to know if this falls into the "bad manners" category.
It depends on how old your sister-in-law is. Up until the 17th century, it was considered polite, indeed necessary, for guests to bring their own cutlery. Now it is the reverse, so perhaps it is time for you to tell her that as her hostess, you are happy to provide the eating utensils. As for the plates, Miss Manners will conceal her sympathy with your sister and agree that she should accept what is offered.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
© 2004, Judith Martin
© 2004 The Washington Post Company