After our inaugural Dear Imprudence column, in which I called out some bad advice, I thought it might be nice to go to the other side of the spectrum, and check out some good advice offered up in an advice column. After all, advice columnists do get it right now and then.
As it turns out, Miss Conduct was here to help. The Miss Conduct column for 22 November featured an entry which was pretty much tailormade for FWD.
Here’s the letter:
Several years ago, my father had a stroke that left him in a motorized wheelchair, with impaired speech and vision. He lives at home and participates in social activities in and out of the home. Twice in the past year my mother has been invited to a function and my father has not been included on the invitation. This is rude and hurtful. My mother thinks she should call and ask if my father was not included as an oversight. But that’s probably not the case, and she’s then just making the inviter squirm. I think she should decline the invitation. What is the right way to respond? J.M. / Framingham
And the response:
You say “making the inviter squirm” as if that’s a bad thing. In my opinion, he or she bloody well ought to be made to squirm a bit. I’m so sorry you and your family have had such experiences.
As to what your mother should do — declining without explanation is, of course, an option, and may be the least emotionally taxing one. But if your mother is up for a bit of genteel social combat, her idea isn’t a bad one. Often, you can best shame people — as well as, paradoxically, give them a graceful way of saving face — by assuming good intent. She could call the inviter and say, “I’m sure you mustn’t have realized, but my husband is capable of attending social events despite his disability.” Then just . . .pause. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t for a millisecond believe good intent is at work here — even if people are under the mistaken impression that your father can’t socialize, he should still be invited and the decision left to him and your mother as to whether he should attend.
The inviter may then say, “Oh, I didn’t realize,” in which case accepting the lie graciously will establish your mother as a gentlewoman who is not to be messed with. Or he or she might explain that there is an accessibility issue, in which case your mother can decline, saying that she does not attend events that her husband cannot. Any other attempt at explanation can be answered with “I see. We will not be attending.” A married person’s first loyalty is to his or her spouse, and anyone who treats that spouse as less than fully human for whatever reason (disability, race, sexuality) is owed nothing but the coldest courtesy.
All I can say is: PREACH IT, Miss Conduct.
The exclusion of people with disabilities from social spaces is a perennial issue. It sounds horrific to me, but disabled partners really are routinely left off social invitations, and you know what? People should be made to squirm for that. Because it’s totally not ok to just not invite someone’s partner to a social event because the partner is disabled and it’s “inconvenient” or “uncomfortable” or what have you. It’s not an “oversight” when people know that you are in a relationship and your partner is not included in an invitation sent to you.
Now, I don’t know what sort of “functions” this person may have been invited to, but if they were held in spaces which were not accessible…that’s pretty tacky, to issue an invite to the able partner and just leave the disabled partner off. I generally regard people in relationships as people who get invited to things together, even if they don’t necessarily decide to go together, and I can’t imagine holding a function somewhere where someone could not go and then inviting that person’s partner, as though it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s actually…kind of a cold thing to do.
I’m glad that Miss Conduct pointed out that being mannerly does not mean being silent when people are being unpardonably rude.