DEAR MISS MANNERS: At a museum, I caught sight of a man who had obviously been severely burned. As he passed by a group of school children, the children pointed and shouted. Immediately, their teacher came over and lectured them on their behavior.
As a mother-to-be, I hope that my child would be better behaved than the ones at the museum. How does one instruct children on how to behave around people with disabilities? How should one behave if one's child behaves inappropriately in such a situation?
I understand that it is natural for children to be curious about (and afraid of) people who look "different," but we all know that learning to control our emotions is a part of growing up.
GENTLE READER: Everybody looks "different," one way or another. That's how we tell them apart.
The best way to teach children to avoid spending their lives offending and/or boring people by pointing out to them that they are tall or use a wheelchair or have red hair or stutter is to enlarge their experience of the world. But you are quite right that you should not let them out without first having made an absolute rule against commenting on other people's appearances, favorably or unfavorably, except to compliment people they know extremely well.
As for on-the-spot corrections, Miss Manners hopes that the teacher's lecture consisted only of scolding the children for being rude, and that she saved the part about "How do you think this makes him feel?" for later.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We have received a wedding invitation and do not know how to respond. It is from a man who, along with his former wife, has been our close friend for 15 years. He recently divorced his wife and left his family for another woman.
Do we attend the wedding to show support for his two teen-aged children, who live with their mother? If so, what do we say in the receiving line? We can't say out loud what we feel inside. Saying to the new bride "We don't know how you can sleep at night, you home-wrecker," or saying to the groom, "I hope your new wife breaks your heart like you broke Sue's heart," would be unacceptable.
Do we decline the invitation? If so, how do we word our "regret," and is a gift or card in order? We don't even know what kind of card would be appropriate under these circumstances. Please help us with this predicament. We have never been in a situation like this, and hope never to be again.
GENTLE READER: Of course you must decline an invitation to attend a wedding where you wish both people ill. What are you, the bad fairy?
Fortunately for you, the proper way to decline a wedding invitation is a set piece that leaves no room for the guests' opinion of the couple: "Mr. and Mrs. Penrod Pebble regret that they are unable to accept the kind invitation of Ms. Homewrecker and Mr. Cad for Saturday, the ninth of June."
If they included one of those horrid response cards, Miss Manners gives you permission merely to check the negative choice without comment. You may also take advantage of the fact that presents are optional when one does not attend a wedding.