Advice on manners and morals.
April 11 1998 3:30 AM

Drawing upon her rich experience of life, Prudence (Prudie to her friends) responds to questions about manners, personal relations, politics, and other subjects. Please send your questions for publication to Prudence@slate.com. Queries should not exceed 200 words in length. Please indicate how you wish your letter to be signed, preferably including your location.

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Dear Prudence,

Before I do it, I'm trying to figure out how satisfying revenge would be. I want the satisfaction but not the guilt that might come with it. Two years ago, my lover of three years and I broke up. It was messy and I got shafted. But I moved on and rebuilt my life and my heart. One nagging part of me says that I still have one thing left to do.

You see, I have information about a tax fraud he pulled off and until now has successfully hidden. Do I tell the authorities and let the chips fall where they may, or hold it in and not risk the guilt that would come from watching him lose his job and possibly face a criminal charge? He would not know it was I who sent him up the river, because he thought he hid the fraud from me, too.

--Holding a Secret in Toronto

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Dear Hold,

Interestingly, Prudie had to wrestle with this same problem with one of her ... well, never mind. The thing for you to do is to weigh your own interests. If the relationship is over--no matter that he done you wrong--let everything be over, including the spiteful desire to get even. Though it is said that "revenge is sweet," it can also be, as you've noted, guilt-inducing.

Prudie does not wish to confuse you and sound like Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof when he says, "on the other hand," but a complex piece of your puzzle is that tax fraud is a crime, and your duty as a citizen comes into play. Prudie suspects that civic duty has not been part of your equation, leading perhaps to your doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Your bottom line is to evaluate the extent of his bad behavior toward you and your threshold for a guilty conscience. Only you know whether a potential life-altering misfortune befalling him will make you feel pleased or remorseful. If you choose not to act, know that, at some point, he will get his--without any assistance from you.

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--Prudie, conditionally

Hey Prudie,

I'm curious about your thoughts on the coming millennium change and the notion that the world, due to its reliance on computers in things like tax collection and banking, will see an implosion and complete breakdown of society because the old mainframes can't tell the difference between 1900 and 2000. (For more on the domino effect that supposedly will occur, see http://www.garynorth.com)

--B.G., Los Angeles

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Dear B.,

It is Prudie's understanding that the government, as well as industry, has been working on this problem. It will be costly, to be sure. Sorting data by date is such an integral part of the way everybody does business now that Prudie is sending emotional chicken soup and Excedrin to those who must solve the problems. Being an optimist, however, she feels certain that success will be the outcome, and the only one who might be disappointed with the advancement of the calendar is Zsa Zsa Gabor. Try to remember that it is the end of the century, not the end of the world.

--Prudie, prophetically

Dear Prudence,

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My husband and I are members of our local church and part of a smaller group of Christians who meet fortnightly in each other's homes. We feel that our faith is a personal one, and we enjoy the more traditional approach to personal worship. Our good friends have asked us if we would care to join them at a weekend Christian fellowship event. From what we know, it may well be too "happy clappy" for our taste. It is now some time since they asked us, and I feel we need to give them a response very soon. Can you suggest a way we can kindly refuse the offer without creating awkwardness between us?

--Two Christians in the Midlands, England

Dear Two,

Prudie can, indeed. Try this: "We wish we were free to go with you, but we have a long-standing family commitment." Since you state you are practicing Christians, you might cross your fingers as you speak this falsehood and know that God forgives little white lies when they are intended to spare someone's feelings. Prudie believes this approach preferable to coming right out with your "happy clappy" concerns, if I understand them. I am guessing our equivalent phrase to your British one is "touchy feely."

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--Prudie, spiritually

Dear Prudence,

I have a slight problem with my boyfriend. He has a bad habit of putting his feet on my coffee table, with or without his shoes on. I have wanted to be polite about it, but his habit is beginning to ruin the finish on my coffee table. Another thing he does is place his drinks on the table with nothing under them. I don't want to be rude. What do I say to him?

--Question

Dear Quest,

Say, "Here, dear, a coaster for your drink," then hand it to him. As for the foot/table situation, Prudie is of the old school in matters such as this. If he cannot honor your request to keep his feet on the floor, cover the coffee table with some kind of cloth whenever he visits.

--Prudie, protectively