A recent question to Phillip Galanes, the advice columnist whose “Social Q’s” feature for the New York Times has frequently sparked Ethics Alarms essays, was fraught with larger significance.
A mother said that her 12-year-old daughter had a a sticker on her water bottle quoting Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” The girl’s friend told her that systemic racism made that statement false for many Americans, so the sticker was racist. The daughter then peeled off the sticker. “What’s a mother to do?” was the gist of the inquirer’s appeal. Continue reading →
1. Weekend Update: I am going to make a habit of flagging what I consider important issues from the weekends on Monday, since from late Friday to the end of Sunday these days, Ethics Alarms is populated by just a handful of stalwarts and tumbleweeds rolling down the deserted information super-highway. This time, I point your attention to…this.
2. Today’s baseball ethics note: Yesterday, the falling New York Mets lost their second straight game while getting less than three hits (that’s bad, for those sad members of you who don’t follow baseball) in part because their recently acquired superstar, Robbie Cano, didn’t run hard to first base to try to avoid hitting into a double play. This, in turn, has placed the continued employment of Mets second year manager, Mickey Callaway, in jeopardy, as loafing players on losing teams always will. This is the Star Syndrome (or Rationalization #11, the King’s Pass) in operation: if Cano gets to do what lesser players would be fined, benched or released for doing, then the double standard threatens team unity and respect for the manager.
Cano’s excuse was that he thought there were two outs when there was really only one, because the scoreboard was wrong. A player is supposed to know the number of outs without having to check the scoreboard, but now photo evidence seems to show that the stadium scoreboard was correct, and showed only one out.
The Sunday Times has an advice column by Phillip Gallanes called “Social Q’s” in which the columnists answers questions about what are good manners. For some time it has struck me that his questioners are just plain annoying people who shouldn’t need a an expert to tell them so: anyone with basic common sense could, and should.
1. “Mom” complained that she was sick of her college-going daughter—the folks are paying, and “sacrificing”— at an elite college writing about her rich classmates’ trips, habits, and bling. “I finally lost it when she ignored the care package I sent during exams, telling me about a friend’s new Cartier necklace instead. She texted: “I wasn’t asking for one.” I replied: “Please stop telling me about your rich friends’ luxuries! I don’t want to hear about them.” What do we do?”
Gallanes’ reasonable response in part:
“You may be creating an unfair connection between your financial sacrifice and your daughter’s behavior. She’s probably drawn to all kinds of unfamiliar people and things in her new environment (some of them 18 karat), and would be even if she were on full scholarship. You gave her free rein to choose a school. You shouldn’t resent her for the price tag now, or let it color your expectations of her behavior….What you can do is trust that you raised her well. Your daughter’s head may be turned by shiny things for a minute (or a semester), but life is long. And the values you taught her will likely count for more than secondhand tales of luxury hotels. Still, in the end, it’s her call whether to chase after bling or deeper fulfillment, right?”
My reaction: parents who want constant fealty and expressions of gratitude for their “sacrifices” need to get their own values into line. It is wrong to make children feel guilty for being parented. It is especially wrong to require children to adopt and ratify their parent’s insecurities. It sounds to me like this has already happened:the daughter has been raised by parents who are unduly impressed by wealth and material signs of it. I went to a college full of rich kids. I wasn’t impressed, and because I knew my parents wouldn’t be impressed either, the subject never came up.
If you done want your kid to be interested in how her rich classmates live and think, then don’t send her to a school that’s going to be full of rich kids…but that would be a really selfish and juvenile motive for sending her to State U.
2. “Barbra” asked, Why do visitors to my home feel that they can sit down and play my piano at parties without asking my permission? Not only does the noise make conversation difficult, it really annoys me! I think it’s as rude as walking into someone’s home and turning on the television. How do I stop this without embarrassing them?
This is a pet peeve of mine: people who use pianos, harps and chess boards as living room decorations. They are pompous and in an amazing number of cases, lies: check what color square is on the right hand corners of the chess board the next time you’re in a home that has one. If it’s a black square, it means your host doesn’t know how to play, and is preening. A grand piano is an even more ostentatious prop to boast: “I’m cultured!” If nobody in the house can play it, it really says, “I’m a phony.”
Writes the columnist in part,
“Unlike your analogy to bursting in and turning on the TV, there is a long tradition of piano music at social events. But this is your home. If you prefer not to have live music, pre-empt it with a little note on the sheet-music stand: “Let’s not have piano music tonight. Thanks!” This will be less hurtful than asking people to stop playing after they’ve begun — which is good, because not one of them means any harm.”
Me: A piano at a party says “play me,” and taking it ill when an accomplished pianist accepts the invitation is obnoxious. Yes, it can hijack the party—as a longtime attendee at show-biz parties that break into aggravating sing-alongs, I sympathize—and nobody should make themselves the center of attention someone else’s party without getting permission first. Nobody should presume to play if they aren’t any good at it either.
3. “My son and his partner are in their 20s and in perfectly good health. But they run cold and crank up the thermostat to 72 degrees when they visit us during colder months. My husband and I prefer to wear layers and keep the thermostat set at 65. It’s a small attempt to save the planet for future generations. What is socially correct here?” asks “Kay.”
My admittedly visceral reaction: ARRRGH! A VERY small attempt to save the planet…indeed, virtue-signaling and grandstanding. If you want to freeze in your own home do so, but if you lecture me on my thermostat setting as my guest—or lay your hands on it— be prepared to feel the cold quickly, after I kick you to the curb. As a host, if your idea of social responsibility makes your guests uncomfortable and you act on it anyway, shame on you. A few degrees higher for a day or two won’t flood Miami in the year 2525.
Phillip’s advice: “As guests, your son and his partner probably don’t pack all the cozy accouterments that you and your husband enjoy: thick cashmere socks, fleece-lined slippers and sweaters for layering. Stock the guest room with warm supplies. Maybe your coldblooded guests will take to them.”
4. Finally, there is this, from “Stan”:
As a would-be host, how can I withdraw a dinner invitation that I made five days ago in person? The invitee has yet to respond, and the dinner is 10 days hence….The failure to respond makes me suspect that the invitee is waiting for a better invitation. Am I wrong to feel ill-used?
Stan, you’re a jerk.
The columnist: “Isn’t it more likely that your friend simply forgot about the invitation? ….How about calling or texting and asking if dinner at your place is on? No harm in a reminder…”
Me: Yes, Stan, you are. You’re lucky if anyone wants to have dinner with you.