it’s time to be civil (27)


# 18. Avoid personal questions. … Taboo questions continue to make the rounds, kept in business by our inexhaustible curiosity about the business of others. Most of them have to do with religion, politics, money, personal relationships, health, and physical appearance. Here is a selection of questions that, depending on the circumstances, many people perceive as intrusive:

  • “Do you believe in God?” … “Do you pray at regular hours? …”
  • “For whom did you vote?” “Are you a liberal?” “Are you a conservative?”
  • “How much do you make?” “How much did it cost?” “Is it paid for?” “What’s your monthly payment?” “What’s your net worth?”
  • “How old are you?” “Are you married?” “Have you ever been married?” “… Why didn;t you have any children?” … “Are you pregnant?” …
  • “What are you seeing the doctor for?” “What kind of surgery did you have?” … “Have you lost weight?” Have you gained weight?” “How come?”

… privacy-probing questions like these can unsettle, embarrass, and sometimes anger us. … Whenever we believe that our privacy is threatened, it is our privilege to object.

Here are a few formulas with which we can defend your privacy: “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that,” “This is too big a question to be quickly addressed right now,” “This isn’t the best time to discuss this topic,” “Let’s not talk about money, if you don’t mind,” “I prefer not to discuss personal matters,” and “I’m sorry, but I don’t see why you need to know.”

Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct by P.M. Forni (St. Martin’s Press, 2002); pp. 116-117,118

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