June 26, 2009 in Features

Miss Manners: When whole family wants to know health details

Judith Martin
 

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a serious, but probably (hopefully) not dangerous medical condition (a benign inoperable brain tumor, if you must know). I am receiving radiation therapy for it. This situation is very unpleasant for me, and I would rather not discuss this except when I feel the need and am comfortable doing so.

I have shared this with my immediate family because I want to and I feel they do need to know. However, my wife thinks less close family members need to know this. And when I have chosen to reveal this at family gatherings, I have been chastised for not informing people sooner.

I disagree that I am obliged to share this information as a matter of course, and feel my privacy includes how and with whom I discuss this. Eventually, the side effects will be evident, and at that time it will be natural for people to inquire, and I’ll deal with it in my own way.

But until then, since this issue has no affect on my relationships (in the sense that it is not serious enough that people need to help, or that I have limited time with them), I don’t feel it is necessary to share this casually, except at my own choosing. I believe that if relatives feel like they need to know (including my wife’s need to discuss this with others), that that is their problem, not mine.

Do you agree? Am I obliged to discuss this with other relatives who feel they need to know “because we’re your relatives!”?

GENTLE READER: They should be told before they find out from other people. Delaying beyond that would make it look not only as if you don’t care about those you don’t tell, but – to whoever tells them – as if the uninformed would somehow have known if they had cared enough about you. And this is only too likely, now that more than one of your relatives already knows.

In other words, it would be a wide open door for the invasion of privacy, which is what you are trying to avoid.

Miss Manners understands that neither do you want to bring on the common side-effects of any serious medical condition: pitying looks, ill-informed advice and patronizing reassurances. Nor that lecture about how it is nothing to be ashamed of, as if shame were the only motivation for privacy.

This is an excellent reason for not announcing this to anyone outside of your family and intimate friends. However, your best hope is to downplay the matter and cut off discussion saying gently, “Please, I really don’t want to discuss this. I only told you because I know you care about me.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Hello, what is the etiquette on tipping the owner of a business?

GENTLE READER: According to whom?

Those of us who actually know etiquette can tell you authoritatively that is it improper to tip the owner of a business. Tipping is done to supplement the inadequate wages of service employees, and should be considered insulting by entrepreneurs.

However, Miss Manners is given to understand there are entrepreneurs who do not mind being insulted when it comes to money. She finds that regrettable.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@ unitedmedia.com, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.


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