DEAR MISS MANNERS: A neighbor and I do not share the same political beliefs. I try to be respectful of his political leanings. He, however, has been bombarding me with e-mails that include attachments that smear the candidates of my choice. Most are not backed by sound research, but he believes they are based on fact. The e-mails are accompanied by such statements as "Lord help us if this *&!*#$% is elected president, lol!"
I try to answer in a nonconfrontational and civilized manner but have lately taken to either deleting the comments without responding or simply writing "thank you."
This same neighbor has never, and probably will never, express these views in person. E-mail seems to give him permission to be as insulting and disrespectful as he wishes.
Does our right to free speech give us the right to be rude? Any ideas on how this situation should be handled? I'm all for free speech, but I have my limits!
GENTLE READER: Actually, free speech does confer the right to be rude. As well it should, Miss Manners believes.
Wait -- she has not lost her mind and started defending rudeness. Nor, for that matter, your tiresome neighbor.
The problem is that although you and your neighbor hold opposite (and commonly held) opinions on the regulation of behavior, both are dangerous. You hint at limiting free speech, while he acts on the notion that there should be no limits on doing what one has the legal right to do.
What about respect for the opinions of others? What about tasteful language?
In other words, what about -- etiquette? That is the essential, voluntary, but highly necessary system that is supposed to prevent people from exercising rights in such a way as to be needlessly offensive to others. It does not even seem to have occurred to your neighbor that offensive behavior is an ineffective way to make one's own case.
This is not someone with whom you should attempt to argue. Be grateful for the Delete button.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have four sons, and when they give me a gift for birthday or Mother's Day etc., and if it's not in the presence of the others, I don't know if I should tell the others about the gift. I fear that they will feel bad if the gift is a lot more expensive than what they gave me.
I don't usually mention that they gave me a gift. But, yet, I don't want the giver of a gift to me to think I am not proud or grateful. Maybe they would want me to tell the others. I just don't know what to do.
GENTLE READER: You would get the same (bad) effect by saying, "Look at the car your brother gave me" as by saying, "That car? Oh, I don't know, I just found it in the driveway" -- before adding, of course, "Thank you for the handkerchief."
Presumably, these are grown-up sons, and it is not up to you to spread or to conceal what they do. Your job is to keep your own focus away from the expense, and to greet their presents with equal graciousness.