Etiquette and Agony Aunt Advice

“Once upon a time two women went room hunting in a lodging house at a certain summer resort...” Not these two, but two others. – Ruth Cameron was a no-nonsense, “Agony Aunt” who had and advice column called “The Morning Chit-Chat” in early 20th century newspapers.

Sensitiveness May Be Cowardice

ONCE upon a time two women went room hunting in a lodging house at a certain summer resort. At one house they were shown a very pleasant room, neat, attractive, well furnished and fairly reasonable in price, and the woman for whom the search was being conducted seemed almost persuaded. “I like this room immensely.” she said to the hostess, who had been unusually agreeable and courteous in showing the room. “I am almost sure I will take it, but I must consult my husband. I’ll let you know by Thursday.” 

That was Tuesday. On Wednesday another house hunter came to this house and fairly fell in love with the room in question. She was told that another party had the refusal of it. She urged the hostess not to mind that. “If you will only let me have the room, I'll take it today for the whole summer,” she promised. But the hostess, being new at the business, and having an unusual sense of honor, said she must wait until she heard from the other party. Whereupon the applicant, not being in a position to wait, went elsewhere. That was two months ago. The woman who had the refusal of the room has not telephoned yet. Needless to say, she never meant to. Indeed, she was scarcely out of earshot before she confided to her companion: “I knew that room wouldn’t be big enough, but she was so pleasant that I didn’t want to tell her that. I am so sensitive.”

“But won't you hate to telephone?” inquired the companion. “Oh, my dear, I shan’t telephone her. If she doesn’t hear by Thursday, she’ll know I’m not coming. I wish I wasn’t so sensitive (with a smile that showed how proud she was of just that), but I simply can’t bear to hurt people’s feelings.” Do you know what that woman reminds me of? Of the kind of folks who are so sensitive that they can't bear to chloroform or otherwise dispose of their pet cats, but are quite willing to leave the poor creatures to shift for themselves and probably be killed by dogs or die of starvation or rabies. 

You don’t see the parallel between the two? I do. They both display that peculiar kind of tenderheartedness which makes its possessor cruel instead of kind. Do you know whose feelings that woman was really afraid of hurting? Simply her own. She didn't want to make the effort of saying a firm, decided “No,” so she shiftlessly slid out of the situation in that cowardly way. When the fear of hurting anyone’s feelings makes you deceitful and blind to their best interests, you may be pretty sure that it’s your own feelings that you are really guarding. 

Suppose a surgeon should look at a mortifying finger and say, “I know I ought to cut that off, because, if I don’t, the trouble will spread to the whole arm, but I can't bear to hurt the patient.” Suppose a doctor should say, “I know that’s the only medicine that will cure the patient, but it’s so bitter I hate to ask him to take it.” The tenderneartedness that is straightforward, honest and cruel to be kind, if necessary, is certainly a virtue, but the sentimental, deceitful tenderheartedness that is kind, and thereby cruel, is very much nearer a vice. — By Ruth Cameron, 1912 


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