If I shovel out my older neighbors, should I let them know? After the first snowstorm of the year, I shoveled their path and cleared one of the cars out. I don’t want to be paid; a thank you would be nice, but I’m mainly concerned that they may have hired some teenagers and think that’s who shoveled them out.
Anonymous / Boston
Yes, do tell them, especially if there’s a possibility of confusion. The great Jewish sage Maimonides said that it is better to do charitable deeds anonymously, but he was born in Spain and lived in Egypt, so maybe from snow he didn’t know too much. Anonymous charity is pure but not always practical. And people often like to know who’s helping them out, because feeling personally looked after is nicer than feeling like the recipient of a Random Act of Kindness
My daughter has been dating a very nice guy and is quite happy. But I hear him swearing frequently, especially when it concerns work or sports. While I am not a prude, neither am I comfortable listening to it. I have tried to react with comments such as “Oh, that’s lousy.” Any advice on how to clean up the conversation?
M.D. / Boston
This is not a problem. It’s simply not. Mild profanity among adults is a social norm. Some of us consider it one of the privileges of adulthood, and research indicates that there are beneficial effects to strategic profanity deployment in areas as diverse as workplace morale and pain endurance. I get that you don’t like swearing, and you don’t have to. But here’s the thing: Not everyone’s ways are pleasing. We live with this — especially when the offenders are decent people who make our loved ones happy.
I can guarantee that Mr. Swearbear has not taken your “clean” language as a prompt. (May I say how much your example of polite disapproval amused me? My mother scolded me as a child for saying “lousy” — it was a vulgarism no young lady should utter!) People who swear are not going to notice that someone else doesn’t or take it as any sort of correction. If your dining companion did not salt her cod, would you take it as a tacit criticism of your own sodium consumption? Or would you simply assume that her tastes differed from yours?
Hosts have the right to set house rules, of course — having always said that, I’m not going to say it only applies to rules I find reasonable. If one of your house rules is “no profanity,” go ahead and make that explicit. But Mr. Swearbear is not being abusive or disrespectful. He is speaking in his normal register, without code-switching, because he likes and trusts you and considers you “his people.” Do you want him to like and trust you? Or do you want him to never again refer to a sportsball rival or irritating co-worker as an [expletive]?
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.