Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 25 2007 6:59 AM

Little Miss Can't-Be-Wrong

How can I cope with my stupid co-workers?

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Hi Prudence,
I'm an office manager at a very small company, where I work with three other girls. In short, I am much smarter than my co-workers. When one of them asks a dumb question (i.e., "What's so bad about Fox News?"), I try to be sensitive and explain without making them feel stupid. Sometimes, though, I get very frustrated, and it's difficult to hold my tongue. Yesterday, my co-worker's sister came in to visit and announced shamelessly that she had never heard of Craigslist. After she left, I exclaimed to my other co-workers, "I can't believe she's never heard of Craigslist!" My co-workers defended her, saying they had never heard of Craigslist until they moved to New York City. I find this preposterous. I didn't say anything else because I didn't want to come off as a snob (which is probably how I'm coming off in this e-mail; my apologies). How does one handle working with people like this? I could keep my mouth shut and go with the flow, but it makes me feel dumb when I don't speak up—I feel that if I don't acknowledge their stupidity, then I'm not doing my duty as an informed young woman.

—Dumbed Down

Dear Dumbed,
Since you're so knowledgeable, I'll leave it to you to answer the following letter:

Dear Prudie,
The three of us work in a small office with an overbearing braggart who thinks it's her job to constantly tell us how smart she is and how dumb we are. If we say something that indicates we don't agree with her political views, she rolls her eyes and gives us a lecture on how to think. If it comes up that we don't know about some Web site she's familiar with, for example, she sighs and tells us it's impossible to believe that we could be that unsophisticated. Her attitude almost seems to be that she feels it's her obligation to point out how superior she is. In some small way, we feel sorry for her because she's so unlikable, but mostly we just can't bear the sight of her. How do we get her to shut up?

—Sick of the Show-Off

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Dear Prudence,
This past week, a grad-student friend of mine and her boyfriend gave me a ride home after class. It was the first time I met her boyfriend. During the ride, he told my friend about plans he had made for a trip they would take in a few weekends. However, he hadn't consulted her, and she was already scheduled to work. When she protested, he told her she could take a sick day, that the plans were already made, and that she could work it out. More than anything, his tone of voice bothered me—it was a "don't make me pull this car over " tone of voice, and my friend, who seems like an intelligent and assertive woman in class, responded in a meek and pleading way, like a child. Their whole interaction seemed very off. Is there some way I should have responded? It was only one interaction, and a fairly benign one at that, but I hate the idea that my friend lets him talk to—and dominate—her like that.

—Don't Like His Tone

Dear Don't,
I agree with you that both his behavior and hers are red flags that he's a bully and she's afraid of him. Get together privately with your friend and say that what happened on the car ride left you troubled. Tell her his tone seemed punitive, and that when she responded to him, she didn't sound like herself. She may defend him and say he doesn't really mean it when he acts that angry, or that usually he's wonderful and his occasional temper flashes are not really a problem. You can reply that you saw only a snapshot of their relationship, and that you feel uncomfortable making such a personal inquiry, but things just didn't feel right. There's not much more you can do than give your friend this reality check, but that can be a powerful thing. I once had a verbally abusive boyfriend who insisted on leaving a loaded shotgun in our bedroom in case of intruders. One day, when my best friend couldn't reach me, she called the neighbors to check and see if my boyfriend had gotten angry enough to use the gun. When your friend thinks your boyfriend just blew your head off, it's hard to go on pretending things aren't really that bad.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
When he was younger, my brother was very fit and attractive, something of a ladies' man, and by his own admission, he has dated a thousand women in his life. Now, however, he lives like a bear—he has dirty, scraggly hair; he's unshaven; he wears smelly, unclean clothes; and he stinks of rancid body odor. He doesn't visit often (he lives out of town), but after he does, my girlfriend and I feel like we need to disinfect the room that he uses, and she doesn't want to give him a hug because he smells so bad. Should I tell him to clean up his act? My guess is that he would not take this advice very well, and I don't want to lose our friendship.

—Relative at a Distance

Dear Relative,
Have you noticed that in addition to smelling bad, your brother is likely mentally ill (or possibly he's a drug abuser, or both) and is in desperate need of help? Forget the Lysol, and contact your other family members about how to intervene on your brother's behalf. Good places to start are the National Alliance on Mental Illness and your state or local mental-health care administration. You're right, your brother may rebuff your family's efforts, but don't let him continue to decline without trying to do something. Given the right care, he could make an amazing turnaround.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Last year was the first year I handed out Halloween candy in my new home. I loved seeing the darling children in their costumes, but became annoyed at how some people abuse the giving of others. There are the expected teenagers that don't even bother to wear a costume, but even more disturbing are the adults. There were several sets of parents carrying infants and asking for candy. It's clear to me that the candy isn't for the babies, and I don't feel I should have to give treats to the adults. How would you suggest dealing with these greedy goblins?

—Troubled About Treats

Dear Troubled,
It's Halloween, and there is a tacit agreement that if you've got a pumpkin on the stoop and a light on the porch, you're giving candy to all comers. Yes, sullen, uncostumed teenagers holding out a pillowcase are not darling, but refuse them and you run the risk of scraping egg off your windows and pulling toilet paper out of your trees for the coming week. As for the parents, so these people put their infant in a kitten onesie and go out for an evening of fun without paying for a babysitter—and you want to stiff them out of a Hershey's Kiss? Lighten up and be a good witch, not a wicked one.

—Prudie