Hurricane Katrina refugees, married virgins, bad manners: Dear Prudence chats live with readers at Washingtonpost.com.

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 31 2011 3:01 PM

Acts of God

Prudie counsels a churchgoer who's lacking in the sympathy department—and other advice-seekers.

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Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I'm looking forward to your questions.

Q. No Sympathy: I recently caught my Sunday school class off-guard when Hurricane Katrina was brought up, AGAIN! (*Sigh*) I made it known that I have no sympathy for anyone that lost homes, lives, loved-ones, etc., when Hurricane Katrina hit. My reasoning: 99 percent of those people made a CHOICE to live in an area that they knew was prone to hurricanes. Therefore, it was my opinion that I shouldn't have to feel sorry for someone that made a mistake and chose to live in the wrong area of the United States. Does this make me a bad person?

A: Do you teach at the Ayn Rand "It's Your Own Fault" Sunday school? When you teach the story of the flood, you must disparage God for instructing Noah to save the living creatures of the earth—according to you they all deserved to drown. By your reasoning, anyone who lives someplace prone to natural disasters (earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards) should be left to their own devices when catastrophe hits. Perhaps you should instruct your students where the proper places to live are, since vast swaths of the earth put populations at risk. Maybe you want to open your home to the millions who must migrate if they follow your principles.

I'm assuming Katrina came up yet again because your students find your point of view morally indefensible. Good for them. Having such a discussion—and citing biblical texts to support various points of view—will make for a challenging, lively class. Although you are very certain about your lack of empathy for victims of the hurricane, I will leave unanswered your question as to whether you're a bad person. I just don't have enough information about you to draw such a sweeping conclusion.

Dear Prudence: Two-Timing Woman

Q. Colleagues Eating While Meeting With Me One-on-One: There are a couple of people at work who feel free to eat while I meet with them in their office or while talking on the phone, or who chew gum loudly while talking with me on the phone. This makes me nauseous and disgusted, as well as making me feel personally disrespected. I suppose those are two slightly different issues. They are both managers, as am I. The relationships are not cozy and collegial; I already feel somewhat disrespected by these two people. I'm pretty sure they would never do that with their boss, and I feel this is an unconscious way of them letting me know that they feel I'm not on their level (although we are all managers at the same level in the organization). One time I said: "Oh, I see you are busy eating. I will come back later." I can't always do that, however, as we make appointments to see each other. Not sure what to do. Any hints?

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A: I agree that chomping in your ear is rude, but it's very possible they are not doing this because they hope to cause you to upchuck at work, but just because they're hungry. Unfortunately for American avoirdupois, the barriers to eating have broken down. It used to be food was consumed in specific places and times. Now all day long is a noshing festival and it's no longer seen as rude to chew and work at the same time. If you are having an extended conversation and the lip smacking is too much, you can say, as you have, "Dan, I don't want to interrupt your lunch, I'll call back later." But surely you are not nauseated at the mere sight of someone else eating—you're able to converse at restaurants, right? If you have problems with these guys, try to sort those out without involving a lecture about their table manners.

Q. Sexual Histories: I recently asked my boyfriend of over two years who his previous sexual partners are. He first dodged the question, then refused to answer. Is he correct that his past is none of my business or do I have a right to know the sexual history of a sexual partner?

A: You have a right to know if his previous sexual partners left a legacy in the form of an STD that potentially could affect your health. Other than that, you don't have a right to know about his intimate life prior to your coming along. Let's say you badger him to tell you. Soon you will be writing to me: "My boyfriend told me the names of his previous sexual partners. I know some of these women! Now I feel sick when I see them socially. And when we start to make love, all I can think of is his doing the same things with them. I wish I'd never asked. How do I get this out of my head?"

Q. Re: "I Shouldn't Have To Feel Sorry for Someone That Made a Mistake": Can you please point to the section of the Bible where Jesus preached this approach? Thanks.

A: Good question.

Q. Son's Reputation: My 23-year-old son is overseas doing volunteer work with youth. He's a very handsome, personable young man, and he tends to attract unwanted attention from some of the young girls he works with. I saw that a couple of these teenage girls had posted suggestive pics of themselves on his Facebook wall. I sent my son a message warning him to be careful and suggesting that he delete these girls' posts. He is now very angry at me. I think he's just embarrassed at the suggestion that he used poor judgment in allowing these girls to "friend" him and then post on his wall. I don't for one minute think he would do anything wrong with any of these young girls. Nevertheless, I believe he needs to guard his reputation carefully. Was I wrong to warn him? Should I have just kept my concerns to myself?

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