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Friday(ish) roundup: Who Can Say What When Edition

Posted by Robin Abrahams  April 13, 2013 10:23 AM

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It's been a gaffe-prone week. President Obama should stop complimenting anything--matzoh, attorneys general--until he learns how to do it right. Jezebel's Lindy West has a good (if someone profane) set of instructions for men here on how to properly compliment women. If you have a hard time with that kind of thing. Which, really, you shouldn't. 

(A general protip on compliments of all sorts: Compliment what people do, not what they are. This is particularly the case with kids, where it's much better to praise hard work than to say "you're so smart.")

Complaints as well as compliments get thrown around carelessly. Susan Silk and Barry Goldman wrote in the LA Times about the "Ring Theory" of complaining during crises: Dump out, comfort in:
Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie's aneurysm, that's Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie's aneurysm, that was Katie's husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to .... When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan's patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator. 
Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, "Life is unfair" and "Why me?" That's the one payoff for being in the center ring. Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.
la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407-001.gif(illustration by Wes Bausmith for the LA Times)

My father of blessed memory taught me this lesson during his first bout with cancer. When I complained of feeling helpless because I couldn't do anything, he gently replied, "Robin, I can't do anything about it either, and it's my cancer."
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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