Miss Manners

Rebuke Only the Sender for Offensive Web Posts

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Occasionally a relative or acquaintance forwards blog posts or other web postings that I consider to be offensive.

When people say things of that sort in person, I always respond because I believe that silence indicates acquiescence. But forwarded messages seem different, and I think the wisest course is to ignore them.

Nonetheless, I don't want the people who send them to think that I welcome these or share their views. Is there a better response than silence?

GENTLE READER: Silence may still be taken as acquiescence. But there are an unlimited number of things that one can be offended by, and too little societal agreement on the severity of different offenses.

Taking offense therefore requires the two qualities that the offender is being accused of lacking: judgment and tact. According to Miss Manners, the important differences between the forwarded blog post and the unfortunate remark made at dinner are, first, the possibility that the sender may not mean to endorse everything being forwarded, and second, the ability to respond to the sender without involving the other recipients.

If the offense is severe enough to merit -- or require -- a response, it is still possible to communicate only with the sender. And it is both more polite and more effective if you can phrase your response so as to allow the original sender the possibility that he did not mean to endorse something hateful.

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