DEAR MISS MANNERS: How can I make people aware of the need for safety precautions? I see people on the street who are not social distancing and not wearing masks. I just want to yell at them that they’re being stupid and endangering themselves and others. But I suppose you would say that’s impolite.
GENTLE READER: Yes, and it is also counterproductive and, unfortunately, provocative.
You may be sure that there is not a soul left who is unaware of the recommended safety guidelines. Those who disobey the rules have chosen to do so, for whatever reason — they don’t believe the science, they consider it a nuisance, or they are indifferent to endangering others.
Compliance, as with etiquette rules in general, is voluntary. That is why it is the law’s responsibility to protect us from threats to life, limb and property. Attempts by citizens to do so do not end well.
Going around yelling at scofflaws is itself a danger. Those who are challenged like that do not apologize and reform; they fight back. Being challenged arouses defenses, which tend to be highly emotional and have occasionally been lethal.
Even milder approaches, such as offering a stranger a mask, are likely to be rebuffed, and probably not pleasantly.
No one would like to see everyone behaving properly and responsibly more than Miss Manners. You would then find her on her front porch, with a book and a glass of prosecco, satisfied that she had accomplished her life’s work.
But she could not accomplish this by running around scolding strangers. When people come to her, it is because they have behavior problems — their own or, more likely, someone else’s. She endeavors to convince them that considerate behavior is in everyone’s interest; even those who are proudly rude hate being treated rudely. And she helps people refuse to be victimized by others’ rudeness.
But when it comes to physical threats, whether from weapons or disease, she cannot recommend direct confrontation. The practical thing to do is to get out of range.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the polite way to remind your relatives and friends to wear their masks?
GENTLE READER: If those relatives are your own minor children, it is, “You’re not leaving this house without your mask, and I want you to keep it on; do you understand?”
Miss Manners expects you to recognize that you do not have jurisdiction over anyone else, and therefore should speak only for yourself. You can do this by saying, “I hope you’ll be all right — I worry about you,” and “I’m following the guidelines, so I think it’s best if we meet online.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it proper to say “Happy New Year,” or is the proper term “Happy New Years,” plural?
GENTLE READER: Are you thinking of getting ahead, so as not to do this for the next few years? It is simply “Happy New Year.” Miss Manners supposes you were thinking of the possessive form used for wishing people a happy New Year’s Eve.