Help! Although most of my family members have been taking the coronavirus seriously, I have a cousin who thinks the whole pandemic is a conspiracy. What do I do?
Debuting with this column, I’ll be taking your questions on all issues of etiquette, particularly as they relate to the coronavirus epidemic. These are unprecedented times, and they call for unprecedented kindness and consideration. By preserving civility, we are literally preserving civilization.
THE CONSPIRACY COUSIN
Q: Although most of my family members have been taking the coronavirus seriously, I have a cousin who thinks the whole pandemic is a conspiracy. Since all of this began, she’s been posting links on Facebook from sources so lacking credibility that it would be laughable if the issue was not so serious. My patience with this spread of misinformation is growing extremely thin. How do I get her to stop?
A: With apologies to Taylor Swift, “deniers gonna deny.” But that doesn’t mean you should shake this off — just don’t use Facebook to challenge her. Not unless you want the conversation to devolve into an hours-long sparring match where each of you questions the other person’s regard for “the facts.”
If she were a fringe acquaintance, I would advise you to bid an unceremonious farewell and unfriend her. But since this is a family member, resolving the situation will not end with dropping her like a too-hot piece of avocado toast. Pick up the phone and share your concerns. Even better, schedule some virtual face time. This will help build empathy. Don’t make the conversation about her Facebook posts alone. Genuinely inquire how she is doing. It may be that quarantine has left her feeling depressed, and latching on to conspiracies is her coping mechanism. Either way, do your share of listening, explain your position clearly and respectfully, and if all else fails, agree to disagree.
Come Thanksgiving — providing we have returned to some semblance of pre-Corona normalcy — you’ll be happy you chose not to fan the flames of discord. Even more so, you can be grateful her beliefs are a family exception and not the rule.
Q: My best friend’s father has just died from the coronavirus. Normally, I would have gone to the wake and funeral, but because of social-distancing restrictions, that is impossible. I’ve spoken with him on the phone, but that feels woefully inadequate. What is the best way for me to pay my respects?
A: With most of America still under stay-at-home guidance, families across the country are saying goodbye to their loved ones without the in-person support of extended family and friends. This is painful, as the hugs, tears and gentle laughter that would normally be shared — whether in a funeral home receiving line; while sitting shiva; or during a tribute at a post-burial repast — risk going unshared.
Don’t let the fact that you can’t be at your friend’s side prevent you from being there for him in other ways. Send a handwritten letter or card addressed to him and his family. Include thoughtful words and a wonderful memory of his father. Inquire if his father had a favorite charity, and make a donation in his name. Offer to help organize a virtual tribute to his dad once the initial shock of the loss has started to diminish. Once we all emerge from this isolation — and we will — your friend and his family may even coordinate a celebration of their beloved patriarch. This will be your chance to provide your support in-person, to share a few tears, and I hope, some much-needed hugs and laughter as well.
Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley, is a nationally regarded expert who appears regularly in the media to discuss modern-day etiquette dilemmas — from how to split a check fairly to how to get a word in edgewise. Follow Thomas on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @MisterManners. And for more insights, listen to his brand-new podcast, “What Manners Most,” which will be focused exclusively on Coronavirus-related etiquette for the foreseeable future.