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Miss Conduct

Getting the green light

When recycling mistakes warrant a talk, plus baby showers for unpopular co-workers.

By Robin Abrahams
May 30, 2010

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Recently, our city issued new trash containers, green for recyclables and blue for regular trash. This morning, I saw our neighbor putting his regular trash (which I suspect contained diapers) into the recycling bin. When I mentioned it to my husband, he said it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to simply move the garbage myself. I don’t want to seem like a busybody, but I also don’t want him to continue to make this error (which probably resulted from late nights with the wearer of the diapers). What would be the most polite and kind thing to do? L.B. / Newton Oh, my, have I overdone it with the “Don’t correct other people” rhetoric? In general, one ought not comment about the poor grammatical, romantic, etiquette-related, nutrition, or fashion choices made by others, as to be the subject of this kind of correction by those who feel they know better is clearly a great annoyance. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t point out the occasional banana peel in another person’s path. There’s a difference between trying to give someone a moral makeover and letting the person know that he or she is heading the wrong way down a one-way road.

So when you see someone who is clearly in the process of attempting to do something, and he’s going about it ham-fistedly, it’s perfectly fine to say, “Oh, the city memo said the green bins were for recycling” or “Your shirt tag is up” or “I think the coffee pod goes in on top.” I doubt your neighbor would take offense – unless, of course, he is very sleep-deprived indeed. Moving someone’s trash yourself (or tucking in the shirt tag of a stranger, a constant temptation when riding the subway) is a bit invasive by Boston standards, so I wouldn’t do it. But you shouldn’t feel awkward about saying something.

Two of my co-workers are expecting. One of the women is friendly to everyone. The other will walk by me without replying to a hello. She does this to many people and only talks to her select friends. One of her friends has planned a dual shower for both (it is suspected that this is the only way people would go to a shower for the second woman). I am not attending because of a prior commitment. I had planned on buying a gift for the first woman and giving it to her at a different time, but some people are planning to buy a joint gift for the second woman. I know I am not the only one who feels uncomfortable buying a gift for someone who does not make any effort to be friendly to everyone. K.A. / Bedford Here’s a little reality check: You’re not buying a gift for someone who snubs you. You’re buying a gift for an innocent baby devoid of wiles or manners, who is already saddled with the considerable handicap of a socially inappropriate mother. Does that change your attitude a bit?

Take the high road on this one. Seriously. It will make you happy to do so, and you will look better to yourself in the mirror. You will look like a strong, proud, generous person with a sense of humor and perspective, which is not a look you can buy at Sephora for any amount of money. (I should know.)

A communal act of generosity may even turn Ms. Clique ’n’ Claque around. Maybe she is one of those shy people whose shyness comes off as snobbery. Maybe she got off on a bad foot at the office and never knew how to make things right. Or maybe she’s a thoroughly nasty piece of work who will never change her ways. But no matter the case, you can make the gift-giving be about the kind of person she is, or about the kind of person you are. What kind of person do you want to be?

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. Got a question or comment? Write to missconduct@globe.com. BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at boston.com/missconduct. CHAT Get advice live this Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.

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