Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 21 1998 3:30 AM

Dear Readers,


Prudence is greatly pleased at the confidence so many of you have shown in her by asking her advice. Sadly she must, however, return to her needlework now. Some answers to questions previously posed to her will be posted here in the next few weeks, but she will be unable to answer any questions received after this date.

In leaving, Prudence would like to offer this last piece of advice:

Except in a very few instances, Prudence is neither better informed nor wiser than the persons who write to her. She is able to offer helpful advice only because the problems described are not hers; she is not emotionally involved in them and can consider them objectively. So her advice has two parts: First, when you are greatly troubled with a problem you should write it down in the form of a letter--which you may, if you wish, address to Prudence. The act of translating the problem into written words, rather than brooding over it endlessly and incoherently, will itself be helpful. It will enable you to see the problem in its true dimensions. Second, you should not mail the letter but should read it over to yourself and imagine what Prudence would say. You will find--not always, but often--that you know the answer. As Prudence read the letters she received, she often felt that the writer knew the answer but only wanted some confirmation. Try it seriously for yourself.

--Prudence, fondly bidding you farewell


Dear Prudence,

My boss is a woman and she doesn't wear underwear. She is 35 and pretty and she is having an affair with a man who has two children and a wife. We have meetings and she wears slit dresses that are distracting. She lets everyone know her private life. What should we workers do? Look away or watch the whole thing?


Dear Kbent,


Very interesting. Whether you look away or watch doesn't really matter. Do whatever makes you comfortable. But it is not your business to discipline or censure her. Her behavior, as you describe it, does not seem to fit the category of "sexual harassment," broad as that category seems to be. --Prudence, aloofly

Dear Prudence,

Here is an unusual question concerning manners. I was a sophomore who was invited and went to the junior/senior prom at my school. Later, people were telling me that I should not have gone, because it was rude and unfair to junior and senior girls who had not been asked and did not go. I had been asked by a boy who was a junior at the time, and I was not the one to ask, as sophomores were not allowed to ask. Was it wrong for me to have gone, even though I was asked? Should I have told the junior to ask an older girl?

--Older Now


Dear Older Now,

Oh, no. It was perfectly OK for you to go to the prom. The prom was for juniors and seniors. You were invited by a junior. It would be an infringement on his rights to say that he could not bring whom he chose.

--Prudence, seniorally

Dear Prudence,


There is nothing I enjoy more than being in the presence of my own company. I wish to clone myself. Is this terribly selfish or immoral?


Dear Narcissus,

You are already in the presence of your own company. You don't need a clone. You can talk to yourself. Even Prudence does that sometimes. You can look at your reflection in a mirror, or in water, as Narcissus did. Cloning yourself is not feasible at the present time. As I understand it, it will be rather expensive when it does become feasible.

Finding the highest enjoyment in your own company is not selfish or immoral. It is, however, unfortunate and foolish. It greatly limits the range of experiences you can appreciate and enjoy.

--Prudence, sociably

Dear Prudence,

Scenario: fancy restaurant, formal dinner and dance. Is it OK to give the gentleman I'm with a kiss, or when would be the appropriate time?


Dear Scottie,

Overuse has depreciated the positive value of kissing in social contexts, while the furor over sexual harassment has increased the negative value of kissing in the workplace. Thus, it is hard to know where we stand. However, to your specific situation:

The answer depends on the relationship you have with this man and on the occasion. Ordinarily, if he is not a longtime or close boyfriend, he should kiss you on the cheek when he picks you up. That is simply a way of saying you look gorgeous, which is obligatory. When he returns you to your door after the dance, you should kiss him on the cheek, which is a way of saying thank you. If this is a New Year's Eve party, you may kiss him on the lips at midnight.

If you know him better, he should kiss you on both cheeks when he picks you up. But you do not kiss him then. That is because of the lipstick. When you are dancing cheek-to-cheek (do they still do that?), you may lightly kiss him from time to time. When he brings you home, you may have a warm kiss at the doorstep. If it is snowing, or for some other reason, you may invite him in. Beyond that, Prudence has nothing to say.

--Prudence, blushingly