by Ginger Philbrick
A loyal reader told me a story, which I now pass on to you:
Once upon a time there was a Fair Lady who, when she was 25 years old, was blessed with a beautiful daughter.
Approximately 50 years have passed since the happy event of the child’s birth. The Fair Lady now lives in an idyllic land that lies along the Rappahannock River in the Kingdom of Lancaster. Her Beloved Daughter lives in a northern kingdom which requires some three hours of travel to reach. Despite the distance between them, the two often meet to enjoy each other’s company in fun pursuits or as companions for life’s many necessary appointments.
One day, when the sun was shining brightly and the Fair Lady and her Beloved Daughter were out shopping, a Smiling Stranger came up to them and said, “Hello. I see you two sisters are having a good time today!”
And all at once the day didn’t seem so bright to the Fair Lady and her Beloved Daughter. The End.
But it really isn’t the end. Although the Smiling Stranger made the injurious assumption months ago, the Fair Lady still feels the awkwardness of the moment, and the unintended slight to her Beloved Daughter. And her Beloved Daughter still feels the embarrassment and hurt that the stranger’s remark left behind.
I tell you this cautionary tale so that we all take care that, when we want to compliment another person, we don’t do it at the expense of anyone else’s feelings.
The Smiling Stranger in our story, although meaning no harm, would have been much wiser to say, “It looks like you two are having a good time today. There is certainly a resemblance between you. You must be related!”
It would have been up to our Fair Lady or her Beloved Daughter to disclose what their relationship is.
There is an old saying about assumptions that propriety keeps me from quoting here. Suffice it to say that it correctly warns that assuming often makes us look like a certain braying animal.
Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at email@example.com.