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Miss Manners: Public confrontations: Ineffective, counterproductive gentle readers

GENTLE READERS: We really must protest. It is the American way to speak up against what is wrong, even if we can’t agree about what is.

With that privilege, Miss Manners is lodging a protest against the use of rude confrontations – public name-calling, in the streets or electronically – as a form of protest. She expects to be called naive, cowardly and a lot worse. Vented upon. But then, who isn’t, these days?

There are many legitimate forms of protest: voting, marching, demonstrating, chanting, lobbying and participating in public life – whether to seek office or to help like-minded people do so. These may or may not accomplish the immediate objectives, but they are important expressions of public opinion that can build strength and ultimately prevail.

Even the rate of failure is not like that of venting, which has never accomplished anything. Has even a single person who was called nasty names stopped and thought, “Well, perhaps that’s fair; I should change”?

Predictably, Miss Manners objects to venting because it is rude. Its target is not only the designated one, but everyone else, as it pollutes the public environment. And we are all aware of how often it leads to violence.

But her deepest objection is that it is counter-productive of the very point it wants to make. And by that, she does not count on polite restraint providing a good example, however valuable that would be. People do not admire their victims any more than those under attack admire their attackers.

It is that public confrontation is so conspicuously disruptive and potentially dangerous as to give those who engage in it the false sense that they have accomplished something. Indeed, they have succeeded in upsetting numbers of people, possibly even some unintended targets who would have agreed with them.

Exhilarated by the attention, they stick with that method, thus squandering any time and energy they might put into the forms of protest that might lead to actual change. Miss Manners supposes that if you oppose them, you should be grateful.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We received a wedding invitation that we are unable to accept. I wrote a regret and sent it to the address on the reply card. We would, however, like to give the couple a gift. In looking through the invitation enclosures, we found, to our dismay, that the only “item” for which they registered was money to fund their honeymoon.

I find this distasteful in the extreme, and wonder if Miss Manners has any suggestions for gifts for this couple.

GENTLE READER: A begging bowl in their pattern?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: At a party, a woman I know fairly well came up behind me and ran her fingers up and down my back in a scratching sort of way. I asked her to please stop, saying that I did not like it.

Her response was, “I know you don’t like to be touched, and that’s why I do it.” She repeated this comment.

I am at a loss as to how I could have responded. Am I doomed to be hugged and pawed by people I would be comfortable only touching me with a handshake?

GENTLE READER: As your acquaintance considers that annoying people is amusing, Miss Manners hopes that she will enjoy your giving a piercing scream the minute she touches you and shouting, “What are you doing?”

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.


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