DEAR MISS MANNERS: This evening I found myself waiting in line with two young men who proceeded loudly to proclaim at least five different countries they would like to bomb, and advocated reintroducing the draft so that everyone else would have to share their "sacrifice."
They then loudly branded several political figures they disapproved of "---holes."
I bit my tongue and waited quietly. Then the people in front of me joined in and, incredibly, they all complained about how persecuted they were and how they should band together and "rule the world" (their words, not mine).
I live in a small, relatively liberal town in a very red state, and this is not the first time something like this has happened. At least once a week, I hear jokes or comments that if not overtly racist, contain racist, sexist or homophobic assumptions.
A few weeks ago, I saw someone in a public place wearing a T-shirt that said "celebrate diversity" covered with an assortment of brightly colored guns.
What should I do in these situations? When the people are strangers I bite my tongue for the sake of maintaining a civil society. But what do you do when they are relatives?
I don't want this sort of behavior rubbing off on my nieces and nephews, but whenever I express any kind of disapproval, I am labeled overly sensitive or a knee-jerk liberal (a dirty word in this part of the country). It seems I am expected to hold my tongue politely while they offend anyone and everyone they want.
A friend of mine says I should just keep quiet and let these people talk, that they are only embarrassing themselves.
But you know what? They are not embarrassed. In fact, they are quite proud of themselves.
I've taken to simply leaving the room or avoiding certain people, but when children are around, I worry that by remaining silent, I am becoming complicit in the bad examples set by others. And frankly, I'm getting very tired of showing tolerance to the intolerant. Any hints on how to behave civilly and still sleep at night?
GENTLE READER: What you hear in the street is called freedom of speech. And considering your relatives, it does not sound as if you need to go out looking for an argument.
Not that what you have described to Miss Manners resembles anything like a political argument. Surely you do not harbor the delusion that presenting your views or trading insults would change the minds of people who engage in such polemics.
So yes, you should ignore strangers. And if you can get away from your relatives when they are carrying on, and do so without making a scene, you should. It would be better to make an agreement with them that since you have such different views, and since airing them leads to unpleasantness, talking politics be banned when you are together.
It is of no benefit to the children for you to engage in exchanges of name-calling. However, your conscience would be proud of you if you sought opportunities with them to explain and refute prejudice -- without personally attacking your and their relatives.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What would be the best way to discourage my parents from asking me questions about my finances?
GENTLE READER: Being demonstratively responsible and solvent.
Or asking if they meant it as an overture to helping.