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Miss Conduct

Advice: A guy yelled at me for petting his unleashed dog

Plus, what to do when a Facebook friend says "unfriend me if you think…"

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Recently I was walking my dog at a park when another dog ran up. I bent to pet the friendly dog, and its owner, who wasn’t as friendly, shouted, “Could you not touch my dog? The dogs can sniff each other but don’t touch my dog!” I was surprised, but said “Sure” and then left the park. Am I crazy in thinking it is his responsibility to keep his dog on a leash if he doesn’t want someone to pet it? Have the rules of common sense changed during this time of COVID-19?

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A.T. / Newton

I know what you’re getting at, and this is going to sound like nitpicking, but common sense doesn’t really have rules. It’s a capability, not a system.

Now, etiquette is a system with rules, and those rules have indeed been changing rapidly, on a lot of different fronts simultaneously, and in a way that is forced and unnatural and requires difficult calculations of risk and morality. And because of that, people’s capability for common sense these days isn’t always what it might be. And so people do things like let their dogs run loose when they don’t want anyone to touch said dog. And maybe yell a little louder than they meant to, because they haven’t 100 percent mastered the knack yet of calibrating their voice to sound friendly, but also clear and direct, from at least 6 feet away through three layers of cotton, adjusting for wind speed.

See where I’m going? We all need to be a little bit extra gentle with ourselves, and others. And don’t touch other people’s stuff without asking — even if that “stuff” rolls up on you begging to be touched.

If a Facebook friend writes “Anyone who thinks XYZ, go ahead and unfriend me,” and you arguably think XYZ, are you — well, am I — under an obligation to unfriend them? This isn’t someone who is proudly racist or homophobic or misogynist or anti-science or QAnon [a far-right conspiracy theory about the deep state] or anything. The circumstances are complicated, but it’s a connection I’d like to maintain.

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M.B. / Tulsa, Oklahoma

You’re not obligated. I mean, if you’re not their friend, you sure as heck aren’t their social secretary, right? Respecting people’s boundaries is one thing, doing their database maintenance for neither love nor money is an extra mile. I’m not even sure the “Unfriend me, you cads!” maneuver is meant to be taken literally. I’ve done it a few times, and I know perfectly well a few XYZers haven’t unfriended me, and I’m not mad about it. My sense is that “If you believe XYZ, unfriend me” is less an evacuation order for the XYZ-ists and more of a declaration that the writer’s page is a proudly non-XYZ space. That if anti-XYZ content bothers you, it’s your problem to deal with, and that pushback is unwelcome and do not bring your XYZ nonsense around these parts. As you suggest, what one does with this declaration depends on the nature of the XYZ.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.