A prominent state official whose sudden retirement was prompted by a desire to spend more time with his wife and grandchildren, as well as by the public discovery that he had paid off an employee who accused him of sexual harassment, made a public confession:
It was true that he had committed the crime of failing to keep up with etiquette changes.
"I don't blame anyone for my troubles. Most of them I brought upon myself," he said. "But times have changed, and what was accepted in the era in which I was raised is strictly off limits today. I didn't change with the time, and if I have offended anyone I am truly sorry and I apologize."
A Gentle Reader has asked Miss Manners for a clarification of the etiquette involved: "I was born in the early 1970s," she writes, "and as a result, I have no experience with the Bad Old Days before feminism. Nonetheless, my guess is that sexual harassment was never considered correct or polite behavior, at least not in our country's short history. And yet, every time a public figure admits to having behaved inappropriately toward a woman, they claim that such behavior used to be perfectly acceptable. (Their only crime is to be too old-fashioned!)
"Putting aside the weak nonapology, have the rules really changed? What era did this man grow up in, exactly, when trapping and assaulting women was accepted? It may not have been illegal, at least in a practical sense, but surely this is a point on which etiquette has not wavered over the years. Please reassure me."
Miss Manners can reassure her G.R. that etiquette did not previously countenance forcing attentions on ladies, and then suddenly discover that there may be something improper about it, but failed to get the word out to those it had considered perfect gentlemen by its earlier standard.
As the Gentle Reader supposes, it is, rather, the law that long ignored this behavior that it has lately come to condemn.
A lawmaker who wishes to apologize for not keeping up with the times in regard to this issue should apologize for ignorance of the law.
However, the person in question here denies having harassed his accuser (while admitting to having paid her $100,000 in an out-of-court settlement), and invokes a practice that instead of being old-fashioned is what is called New Age.
He describes himself as "huggy."
This refers to the pop psychology notion that hugging a stranger or acquaintance confers a beneficence on that person. Beginning in the encounter group movement, it spread into society to the point where even churchgoers may be instructed to hug whoever happens to be sitting next to them.
Miss Manners has always been amazed that the notion that it was a good thing to grab people and hug them without their permission arose at about the same time that the law discovered that it was a bad thing to grab people without their permission.
Surely the desirability of being in someone's arms depends on whose arms they are, and being deprived of choice is an indignity whether the intent is romance or comfort -- obtaining a favor or conferring one. In either case, grabbing people has always been condemned by etiquette and always will be.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I let a friend read a complaint letter I had just composed, without asking her beforehand if she wanted to. After fitting it into my online chat screen and sending it to her, I realized it took up a lot of space, and said, "Oh, that was long." She agreed, saying it was "good, but long."
I felt offended that she agreed with me. Was my taking offense justified?
Later, I wrote an e-mail telling her I felt hurt and thought it was rude for her to offer her opinion without being asked. I felt I had committed a social faux pas. What should I have done?
GENTLE READER: What you should do right now is to get a grip on yourself. When you start complaining about your friends who agree with you, Miss Manners is afraid that you are moving from being an outraged consumer or concerned citizen to full-fledged crank.
Your forwarding your letter to your friend who had not requested it implied that you wished her opinion. Furthermore, her reply was tactful, possibly meaning that the quality justified the length. So the second thing you should do now is to apologize.