DEAR MISS MANNERS: Say I have a guest over for a meal and I don’t agree with their opinions and lifestyle. How do I politely tell them I disagree without coming on too strong?
GENTLE READER: Parties at your place, where hospitality includes luring a guest for a critique of his or her life, must be a barrel of fun. Do you have many repeaters?
Miss Manners has been straining to think of someone who might warrant such interference, and yet be described as “a guest,” rather than a minor child in your custody. You don’t even call this apparently misguided person your close friend or relative – not that this would entitle you to launch a surprise attack at your table.
There is an ancient rule forbidding a host to kill his guest, and many a legendary character waited impatiently for his enemy to step outside the premises. Attacking someone’s way of life is somewhat equivalent psychologically. If you must do so, Miss Manners requires you to ask the target frankly for the opportunity – providing a fair chance at his making a run for it – and not to spring it during a social encounter.
Challenging opinions is a different matter. Civilized people are not required to pretend that they agree with one another. Life spent entirely among those of the same mind in everything would be boring. One could even argue against the value of opinions that have gone untested by counter-arguments.
But to be polite – and for that matter, to be effective – those with opposing views must be respectful and fair. That requires listening to the other’s argument and conceding when convinced. And it means confining the discussion to the subject matter, eschewing personal criticism. As that is not your intention, you should avoid either any topics in contention or entertaining people of whom you so thoroughly disapprove.