DEAR HARRIETTE: To intervene or not to intervene, that is my question. I was recently in line at a fast food restaurant when I heard someone ask another person in line for directions. The person was giving him incorrect directions, but I didn't correct the direction-giver, and then I felt bad and hoped the person getting the directions made it to his destination.
Let me explain why I chose not to correct the directions: Years ago I was on my way home from out of town, and I stopped in a rest area along the highway. Someone who worked at the rest area was giving directions to a traveler who was going to where I lived. When I realized she was giving the person incorrect directions, I politely corrected her, but she got offended. What should one do in that situation? -- Flustered, Chicago
DEAR FLUSTERED: I believe that people should help each other. That includes gently correcting misinformation, especially directions. One way to do that with the least amount of friction is to say, "Excuse me, would you mind if I give some clarification on those directions? I live/work nearby and know a simpler way." Or something to that effect. If you define it in such a way that the person giving directions can save face, it will make it easier for your amended directions to be heard.
Generally speaking, when people offer directions, they intend to be accurate, but the result is not always the case. When you are sure that what you are hearing is incorrect, by all means speak up.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My son yells "shut up" at his brother and even at me. It usually happens when he is frustrated or not getting his way. I do not allow that talk and often punish him, but he keeps it up. How can I get him to stop? I don't want his younger brother to pick up this bad habit. It needs to end. -- Bad Words, Shreveport, La.
DEAR BAD WORDS: Tell your son that those two little words can be extremely hurtful and rude. Ask him if he likes others to say or, more likely, scream those words at him. Point out that it is much better to walk away or use kinder words to attempt to stop an uncomfortable encounter.
When not in the heat of the moment, talk with your son about what it means to be a gentleman. Describe to him that it is possible to disagree with someone or even want someone to stop talking and to deliver that message gracefully and with authority.
Scolding your son is not the way to get him to choose to embrace more respectful language. Demonstrating to him how to handle conflict or extreme waves of negative energy is far more helpful. Remind him of the Golden Rule. And point out that he is in the unique position of demonstrating to his brother how to behave in all kinds of situations, especially when he's upset. Suggest that he step into the role of being a great example for his brother. He may like that if you position it positively.