DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a private person, but I have taken an unpopular public stand on a controversial issue. I speak to civic groups about the issue, sometimes participate in debates sponsored by such groups and write letters to the editor. Within my local area, I am well known for my stand on the subject.
However, I do not want to limit my associations to only those people who agree with me on this issue. I don't like to fight it all the time. Also, I have many other interests and go to many types of social gatherings.
Most of the time, I can avoid a confrontation by changing the subject or saying, "Hey, I'm on my time off now!" or words to that effect.
However, some people see me as a red flag and they are the bull. They just have to charge and keep charging. They feel they must tell me why I am so very wrong! I say that I prefer not to debate the issue, and I try to change the subject, but it doesn't always work.
Do you have some words I can use that are better than what I am currently using? Or should I be ready to defend my position to all people under all circumstances? Is there any way I can set some boundaries on this situation?
GENTLE READER: Try assuming an interested look, and without responding to the attack on your issue, say, "Tell me about your favorite cause. Besides this, what do you think is our most important question of the day?"
This doesn't just change the subject, if it works. It challenges such a person to show whether he has ideas of his own, or just goes around attacking others.
Miss Manners realizes there are risks. He could be tempted to say, "Stopping wrongheaded people like you," although personal insults at a party would only mark him as even ruder than the confrontation, which might be passed off as conversation. The real risk is that you will then attack his ideas, and it will be a draw. The way to win is to listen intently, say pleasantly, "Hmmm, interesting you should think that," and excuse yourself to get a drink.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: After years of listening to friends and acquaintances repeat the same story over and again verbatim, I developed the knack of saying with great enthusiasm, as if I have just remembered, "Oh, that's right, you told me about that!" which usually prompts them to jump to new additions to the tale.
However, there are still a few who plod along through the whole saga after I've reminded them I am familiar with it. What can I do when I don't want to spend the time on repeated life's tales?
GENTLE READER: You are going to have a difficult old age. People repeat things. And then they do it again. See?
Your defense is a good one, even if it doesn't always work. A mean variation would be to declare, "I love the part where you ..." and repeat the punch line.
But you have known these people for a long time, and, Miss Manners supposes, are likely to know them longer still. You should consider suffering through their unstoppable repetitions in the hope that they will do the same should you need similar tolerance someday.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)