GENTLE READERS: Being true to oneself is a poor excuse for being rude to others.
Miss Manners is aware that it is often easier or more convenient to be rude than to be polite, and that many honest, natural impulses are rude. But she does not accept that as justification for the behavior.
Take the childish impulse not to dress up. The same little girl who pleaded to wear her princess dress to school now demands to wear jeans to her aunt’s wedding. And her brother says his pants are too itchy; he wants to wear his superhero tights.
At least they don’t try to pass off their whims as based on principle.
Grown-ups do. Father’s tie, which was in the closet minding its own business, is accused of trying to choke him. It is no doubt in league with mamma’s shoes. Rather than dress up themselves, the grown-ups -- who know they cannot attend the wedding in their pajamas -- dress up their behavior. What was a minor discomfort becomes a betrayal of truth.
Such sleights of hand extend not merely to dressing for the event, but even to attending: “I’m not a funeral person” is presented without embarrassment -- as if we might not notice that even dying no longer gets you noticed by your friends.
As a species, humanity is all too happy to put its own comfort first. Manners exist to avoid the inevitable consequences, namely that being oneself too often involves ignoring others.
Proper attire for funerals shows respect for the dead and the living, and lack of it, by extension, shows disrespect.
What, then, of condolence letters, particularly those at one’s place of employment?
There are two reasons to write a letter to co-workers who have lost loved ones: because the bereaved are friends or because they are employees. The two are not mutually exclusive. Achilles was Patroclus’ supervisor on the job, but they also spent a good deal of time together outside of work hours. Good friends write friends condolence letters (mere acquaintances do not expect such notice). But attending the funeral is not an excuse not to write.
This leaves the letter penned by the boss to the employee. It will do you no good to quote Miss Manners that business and personal life are separate -- implying that it is improper to insert yourself into the most personal of moments, the loss of a loved one.
Nor does she wish to hear of your own discomfort with the task. You can be true to the part of yourself that cares about others.
(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)