Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

DEAR HARRIETTE: There has been a lot of growing tension amongst my family members. My family is normally easygoing and eccentric; however, lately things have been a bit toned down. One such incident that sparked this awkward tension is when my uncle openly stated his conservative political views. He made some pretty extreme comments to my aunts, who are all liberal. They had a huge fight, which led to screaming at the top of their lungs. Thankfully, the argument subsided after a while, but afterward, they have been talking less frequently. What can they do so that they can carry on the bond they once had and settle their differences? -- In the Middle

DEAR IN THE MIDDLE: When family members disagree about politics, it can certainly cause a rift if and when they choose to talk about it. Since your uncle’s beliefs have been revealed to the family, you cannot take that knowledge away. What you can do is speak to everyone and suggest that you call a truce. In our country, one amazing reality is that we have the right to have individual opinions and to voice them, no matter where we are or what family we belong to. The freedom of speech is a precious right that all Americans are granted.

That said, you need to decide how you want to exercise that right. You can choose to engage in arguments whenever you are with people of differing opinions to try to get them to convert to your way of thinking. Or you can agree to disagree and decide to table political discussions when family gathers. This latter idea can help to keep the peace. It doesn’t mean that you are acquiescing. It means that you can all agree to avoid political discussions to keep things civil.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I was at a cocktail party recently, and a woman I was talking to sneezed. She needed to blow her nose, so I immediately handed her a handkerchief that I had in my pocket. She was very grateful, as this helped her in an otherwise awkward moment. My question is, what should happen to the handkerchief now? Is that just the cost of having good manners -- sometimes you have to give up a perfectly good new handkerchief and not get it back? -- Rules of Engagement

DEAR RULES OF ENGAGEMENT: It was gracious of you to share your handkerchief with that woman. And yes, your assumption should be that you will not get the handkerchief back. It would have been unhygienic for her to hand it back to you after blowing her nose. Since you didn’t know her, there would be no way for her to find you to return it.

On the flip side, if you ever do lend your handkerchief to someone you know, there’s a chance the person may return it to you when cleaned, but I wouldn’t count on it.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)