Miss Manners: Politics and religion? Don't go there

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dear Miss Manners:

What is wrong with people? What happened to the politics and religion rule?

There are people in my van pool and co-workers (some of whom are managers) who think that everyone benefits from hearing their political views. It is interesting that they all share a common opinion that is simplistic and naive.

It puts people who are not in agreement in a no-win situation. Do I speak up and cause acrimony in the van pool? Do I speak up and cause more acrimony and retribution at work?

I don't think so. Also, I do not appreciate receiving e-mails from this same faction that are almost always outright lies, distortions and half-truths. There is plenty of room for criticism on all sides, and it is hard enough to get rational information about Washington's plans for us. The offenders are only perpetuating partisanship, polarizing their audience and making any positive changes impossible. Miss Manners, please share your thoughts.

What happened to the etiquette rule banning casual social discussions of politics and religion is that it is roundly pooh-poohed and ignored. At best, it is thought to be a prissy and unnecessary restriction of adult conversation; at worst, it is considered a repression of free speech and the democratic process.

Miss Manners acknowledges that these accusations might have some validity if people knew how to express their opinions civilly and to listen to the thoughts of others with open minds.

But guess what, folks: In this society, most of the acrimony short of violence is over religion and/or politics, and it doesn't always stop short of violence. And those who are supposed to be dealing with these topics professionally aren't behaving much better.

Instead of civil conversation, discussion and debate we have wholesale denunciations and personal insults. Funny thing -- it turns out that a real exchange of ideas and opinions is possible only under the rule of etiquette.

Miss Manners advises you to cultivate the aura of someone who is so immersed in work -- reading papers in the van pool, concentrating intensely in the office so that you have a blank look when interrupted as if you had not heard -- that it is useless to attempt engaging you in what passes for conversation.

Dear Miss Manners:

We are employed at a billing center for a national durable medical equipment supplier. Our manager has recently reinstituted the business-casual dress code. We had been quite casual (jeans) for a very long time.

Is business casual the allowance of "crocs" and allowing employees to be wrapped in blankets at their cubicles during the winter months? What are the acceptable and practiced rules of business casual dress in the employment world?

As far as Miss Manners can tell, the word "casual" has come to mean that all social decencies are optional.

People who refuse to consider others -- such as not showing up when they said they would or helping themselves to other people's lunch supplies -- will brag that they are just casual sorts of people. The implication is that anyone who objects is pompously citing an unimportant technicality.

So if you think winter was rough in your office (would turning up the heat have helped?), wait until summer. The casual folk especially enjoy trashing anyone's sense of proper dress.

While "business casual" was originally intended to eliminate ties and jackets, Miss Manners urges your manager to specify what he means and drop the word "casual" from his dress code memos. Otherwise, you can expect your colleagues to peel down amazingly when it gets hot out.

Dear Miss Manners:

I am having a party in honor of the engagement of my niece and her fiance. Each family has given me a list of invitees. Is it proper for me to invite my friends (who will not be invited to the wedding), as the party is in my home?

You would be doing your friends no favor. To be included in such an occasion suggests that they ought to be more involved in this marriage than they probably may care to be -- yet if they do want to be, they will find they are not invited to the wedding.

Miss Manners is puzzled about why you would want to do this. To pay off social debts? To be able to keep away from your relatives with people who amuse you more?

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2010 Judith Martin

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