Monday, January 19, 2004

Credit where credit is due

I've given Dear Abby a hard time before (and mean to again in the future when she punts). In the interest of fairness, Dear Abby did a pretty damn good job today.

Dear Abby:

I am a girl in the fourth grade, and there are some mean people in my class. They're always making fun of this girl from China.

When I see them teasing her, I want to be nice to her -- but I'm afraid if I am nice to her, they will make fun of me.

I am one of the cool kids. Abby, please tell me if I should be her friend.

Trying to Be Nice in Pennsylvania

You are an intelligent, compassionate girl. The time to be a friend is when somebody needs one, and your classmate certainly needs one now. One effective way to defuse this kind of harassment is to speak up and say that you don't think what the bully is saying is funny.

Another way is to tell your parents, your teacher and the principal what is happening. That girl is being harassed because of her race -- and it is against the law for that to be ignored. So don't wait. Speak up now. I commend you for writing.

This letter is her only weak spot today. She says the right things, but fails to call "Trying to Be Nice." You only feel like being nice to your classmate when she's being picked on? That's a start, but try being friendly toward her all the time, that's how you can become a difference maker. And the assertion that she's "one of the cool kids" wreaks of "Beta Girl" syndrome (for more on this, see here, here or here for an application of the idea to the media machine) afraid to risk her status in the catty hierarchy. Here's an opportunity to encourage the clearly sympathetic "Trying" to push toward "gamma girl" status. For shame.

Dear Abby:

I am a 38-year-old divorced mother of two boys, ages 12 and 14. My boyfriend, "Nat," is divorced and has no children. We've been dating for three years. He is my best friend, and we get along great.

I am very much in love with Nat, but he says he will never marry again. I try dating other men, but they don't measure up to Nat. It seems Nat could get along fine without me in his life. I don't feel the same. Tell me, Abby, what's his problem?

Waiting in the Southwest

Nat doesn't have a problem. You do. You have fallen in love with a man who has made it clear that he is unwilling to make a commitment to you and the boys. I give him credit for being honest with you.

Nice and blunt like it needs to be. She should probably encourage "Waiting" to get rid of "Nat" (unless he's great with her kids, etc) because there's a real danger in "needing" someone who doesn't need you in return.

Dear Abby:

My co-worker's 20-year-old son recently committed suicide. His mother was a single parent and the young man had long-standing emotional problems.

We are a department of about 20, and all her co-workers felt heartsick for her. All of us contributed toward the funeral spray.

When the funeral arrangements were finalized, the information was e-mailed only to about half of us. The rest -- including me -- were not invited. On the day of the funeral, the "invitees" came to work dressed in dark suits. It was very awkward.

While it is true that a grieving mother is justified in doing whatever makes her comfortable, I feel my feelings were not considered at all. I am deeply hurt that my gesture of sympathy was unappreciated.

Slighted in New Jersey

Get over it. Your co-worker lost her child. You seem to feel that because you weren't invited to the funeral, you somehow lost face.

A funeral is not a party. It's also not a social gathering. Your grieving co-worker wanted those people to whom she felt closest around her when she buried her son. She does not deserve to be criticized for it.

And here's where Abby hits it out of the park. That's right "Slighted," it's not even remotely about you. If the mother of a suicide victim not inviting you to the funeral moves you to "deeply hurt" status, I'd hate to see how actual insults, personal tragedies, and general misfortune affect you. Please, for many reasons only lightly touched on here, clip this column, take it to a therapist, and get help.


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