Dear Miss Manners: It would seem that we have lost the art of social shunning.
Lost the art of social shunning?
On the contrary; it has spun out of control. There are two new versions: Shaming and “cancel culture.” Miss Manners congratulates you for refraining from using these weapons casually.
Yet excluding people whom one — or society — considers reprehensible is etiquette’s chief form of defense (other than setting an example of courtesy in the face of rudeness, which doesn’t always have noticeable results). While the law can administer harsh penalties when it is flouted, disapproval is the only sanction etiquette has against rudeness, and this has often been dismissed as ridiculously weak.
But for centuries, children born outside of marriage received lifetime stigmas. When bans and quotas against races or religions were legally challenged, codified bigotry persisted in private institutions, including not just clubs, but neighborhoods and schools.
And the ease of going public online has encouraged rash — and sometimes unfounded — judgments against individuals and businesses, without gradations of punishment suited to the severity of the transgression.
Vigilante rule is cruel and unjust. So: Is Miss Manners willing to surrender etiquette’s one weapon?
Much atrocious behavior has been exposed. Unmistakable photographic evidence has documented actions that had otherwise been easily denied.
The old warning was, “Don’t do anything you would be ashamed to see on the front page of the paper.” Now, even shameless people should realize that there are consequences to being seen online with behavior that they used to get away with.
Miss Manners lives in hope that people will learn to care enough about their reputations to curb their offensive words and deeds. But that requires a belief in reputations, and an adjustment on the part of well-meaning society to the popular concept of being nonjudgmental.
That must be the phenomenon to which you are referring: The charitable habit of nullifying misdeeds by conferring instant forgiveness, even for the unforgivable. At its most touching, it is the bereaved forgiving the murderer. At its least charming, it is those who lionize audacious criminals.
Deeds count. Miss Manners is bewildered by the current explanation of wrongdoers: “That is not who I am.”
Well, then, who is it who did what you did? Whom do we hold accountable? And what if your doppelganger takes over again?
Miss Manners is not without mercy in viewing those accounts. She requires accusers to be sure of their facts and to keep their condemnation in proportion to the transgressions. She believes in redemption through remorse and reparations.
And she agrees with you about avoiding pointless street confrontations.
Dear Miss Manners: Is it polite to tell someone that their book has a typographical error?
Only when the book is being prepared for a second edition. Or if the first edition was so small that the author can easily do hand corrections in each copy.
New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.
2020, by Judith Martin