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Miss Manners: Bring back the ‘no political talk’ social rule

By Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin Andrews McMeel Syndication

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband is a confirmed Republican in a left-wing, blue-state social milieu. We like to joke that ours is a mixed marriage: Democrat and Republican.

A little political disputation used to add spice to our friendly gatherings. These discussions would be started by either side and always ended with my husband defending himself against a roomful of disputants. I add, with pride, that he could hold his own and keep his temper.

However, a friend of ours, whom we had been trying to see for several months, recently told me that she was avoiding us because she didn’t want to be at a party with my husband because of his political views.

She and her husband were – we thought – close friends of ours. We took vacations together and we would frequently meet. She has not called since, but she did send us an invitation to a holiday cocktail party.

We declined, thinking it would be both awkward and pathetic to appear at such an impersonal gathering after her brush-off. Needless to say, we are both hurt by the rejection. We would like to think our lively conversation on many topics would be sufficient compensation for a difference of opinion on one.

Although we hate to lose friends, we can see no way to patch this up. Do you have any suggestions?

GENTLE READER: Invite them to a party. After all, they made an overture by inviting you. And announce that you are invoking the old rule against political talk at social events.

You will say that civilized people ought to be able to air their differences without rancor, and to listen to one another’s points of view, and Miss Manners would agree in theory. But not, nowadays, in practice. People are too raw. And while your husband may show an admirable respect for people with different opinions, others may have trouble doing so.

You may recall that the rule also banned social conversations about religion and sex. Sophisticated people laugh at such a restraint. But Miss Manners can think of situations where social conversations about abortion and gender identity might not make for an amiable party.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: It distresses me to no end to see so many people still smoking cigarettes. You see, I smoked for about 10 years and quit more than 40 years ago. Just last year, I was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Fortunately, due to immunotherapy, my prospects look good. Would it be polite to hand out cards to strangers on the street that read, “Please stop smoking. I quit over 40 years ago and still got cancer”?

GENTLE READER: And would you have stopped sooner if a stranger had handed you a card? Especially a card stating that stopping smoking is no protection against eventual illness? Might not these people decide that, as quitting didn’t help you, they might just as well go on smoking?

With sympathy for you and appreciation for your concern for others, Miss Manners hopes to discourage you from doing this. You are presumably not a doctor, and you are definitely not those strangers’ doctor. You may not even be sure that your history is relevant, because while smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, there are other causes as well, which have afflicted even nonsmokers. And what you certainly would cause is embarrassment and possibly anger.

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

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