Today's Paper Obits Digital FAQ Newsletters Coronavirus 🔴 Cancellations 🔴NWA Screening Sites Virus Interactive Map Coronavirus FAQ Crime Razorback Sports Today's Photos Puzzles
story.lead_photo.caption (Illustration by Nick Galifianakis via The Washington Post)

DEAR CAROLYN: Recently a friend's child posted a photo of themselves with an ethnic slur on social media. The photo went viral, and I suspect there is significant fallout. I don't have a child at her child's school and know the mother through a different avenue.

Mom is a lovely person who seemed not to see her child was often churlish and badly behaved. Fortunately, I was able to avoid spending time with the child and focus on my friend.

Do I reach out to offer support? I am certain she is devastated by this. However, I don't want to make it worse by checking in, as it will confirm the scandal has gone outside the school community. I also don't want to call a mutual friend and seem like I am gossiping or trying to get more details. Ugh!

-- Concerned Friend

DEAR READER: Check in on your friend directly. Don't pretend you don't know.

And don't assume she didn't see her child's shortcomings; brave faces take many forms, including misguided ones. (I'm taking your word she's "lovely" and not bigoted herself.)

And don't assume social-media stupidity is the sole province of churlish, badly behaved children; each new communication platform is gasoline on the fire of an adolescent prefrontal cortex.

Something can always go wrong when you try to help, so it makes sense that you're cautious -- but you don't make bad things worse for people by caring about them. Supporting others tends to go right if you keep it simple: compassionate intent, an open mind and enough restraint to let them do most of the talking.

DEAR CAROLYN: We go out to dinner often with my in-laws, and both of them are very rude to the staff. They complain loudly about everything, from where we are seated to the temperature of the food. They send food back at almost every occasion and cause a huge scene. It is very embarrassing.

We have tried to stop going out with them as much -- we used to go weekly -- but they ask all the time, and I don't know the best way to handle it.

-- J.

DEAR READER: Rudeness is always bad, but it's a special kind of stupid to mistreat the person in control of your food.


The best way to handle it is for your spouse to say to your in-laws, in the moment, "I am not comfortable with the way you're treating the staff." And tip obscenely.

Second-best is for your spouse to say, upon the next invitation and with examples of mistreatment handy, "Dining out with you two is stressful for me, given the way you treat the staff. Let's find other ways to spend time together."

Presumably said spouse won't do this? In which case, third-best option, you speak up, with your spouse's knowledge.

You can also stay the course without speaking up, or accept their dining invitations even less, or never.

There's an art to picking battles, especially with family.

But your embarrassment, while a valid complaint, is not the real problem here. It's that restaurant staff within your in-laws' outing radius are getting abused on a regular basis, and their only choices are to take it or risk their livelihoods. That's what makes your in-laws so awful, and why I hope one of you speaks up.

Chat online with Carolyn at 11 a.m. each Friday at Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071; or email

[email protected]

Weekend on 10/31/2019

Print Headline: Offer to help friend; it can backfire, but it's worth it to try

Sponsor Content


COMMENTS - It looks like you're using Internet Explorer, which isn't compatible with our commenting system. You can join the discussion by using another browser, like Firefox or Google Chrome.
It looks like you're using Microsoft Edge. Our commenting system is more compatible with Firefox and Google Chrome.