ORDINARILY, Miss Manners does not deal in motives. You are perfectly well allowed to harbor any ugly thoughts you choose, provided that you do not act upon them. That is what we call civilization.
Miss Manners, unlike the other great social scientists of our time, does not run around urging people to express their true feelings. If everybody did that, the streets would be so full of hostilities among motorist and pedestrians that no one would be able to get to work in the morning. A little hypocrisy, in the way of simulated kindness, is a wonderful thing.
However, there are certain social situations that have been brought to Miss Manners' attention, in which motivation counts - to the extent that the same action may be decent or indecent, depending on why it was done.
Example: A young lady of Miss Manners' acquaintance was requested by a young man whom she had jilted to recommend a doctor to his present inamorata. After doing so, she was then asked to talk directly to her successor about the latter's illness, of which she had some knowledge but no personal experience.
Example: A lady of Miss Manners' acquaintance had invited her lover to a dinner party on an occasion when his wife was out of town, and wanted to know if she could, in the future, issue joint invitations to him and his wife, who was not aware of their relationship.
In both cases, the question Miss Manners asked was what the motive was of the person promoting the social relationship. Was it a simple conviction that certain people would benefit from associating with one another? Or was it to enjoy the irony of seeing them together?
Miss Manners heartily disapproves of irony as a social motive. Bringing people together for the purpose of secretly relishing what one or both of them does not know about the situation is despicable.
In the first example, the young man had also found an excuse to introduce his former love to a present (now also former) love. His motivation was apparently either to have a current lover unknowingly confront her predecessor, or to arouse the jealousy of the one who had rejected him. Neither motive is acceptable to Miss Manners.
In the second case, the hostess was not, as one might suppose, interested in enjoying the irony of having a woman at her table being unaware of supping with her husband's mistress. As it happened, the hostess wanted to meet the wife, quite aside from the secret connection, because the wife was herself interesting, in fact more interesting than the husband. That is an acceptable motive for issuing an invitation.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. I read that the new president of Italy has decreed that his chauffeur should not wear a chauffeur's cap or gloves, in order to set a "simpler style" for his (the president's) administration, and to symbolize a cut-back in expenses for official cars. Do you approve of this?
A. Miss Manners does not approve of forcing one's servant to violate the conventions of their trade in order to make the employer look democratic.
Q. After large parties, I find my garbage cans filled to capacity. Is it acceptable to place my empty whiskey bottles in a less social neighbor's trash can?
A. There are two possible problems here. First, your neighbor may suddenly take to drink and find that he has no room in his trash can for his own whiskey bottles. Second, he may be hit by sudden fame and find that the contents of his trash can have become of interest to trashy publications or government departments, in which case the profiles of him they reconstruct as a result of your deposits will be misleading. Perhaps you could place your empty soda bottles in his trash can, thus leaving room in your trash can for your whiskey bottles.
Q. When may a lady wear her hat within doors? I was always taught to take mine off indoors, but I have seen older ladies wear their hats in church or on similar occasions. May one, for example, wear her hat in a restaurant or during a business interview?
A. The old ruies about when to wear hats have never disappeared; it was the hats that disappeared. This was unfortunate, because it made it difficult to tell who knew the rules and who didn't. However, hats for women are coming back, and very smart they look, too, which is one reason for not wearing one during a business interview. Certainly a lady can wear a hat inside church, a restaurant or anywhere else during the daytime. The exception is a function in her own house, where hat-wearing would suggest that she had some place better to go, unlike her guests. It is gentlemen who must take their hats off indoors, although they are finding it difficult these days, because they don't have any hats either.