Well, This Is Clearly Wrong

The summer day camp at our local Y.M.C.A. is in session. Recently, I saw a teenage counselor lead a line of preschool boys into the locker room to change for their swim lesson. They were like an adorable row of ducklings! Then I saw an older man — a friendly looking, grandfatherly type — take out his iPhone and photograph the boys while they were changing into their swimsuits. It was hard to decide what to do in that moment, so I did nothing. But this scene has stayed with me. Should I have spoken up?


I spend half my time on Social Q’s trying to picture the flip side of many coins. Could the older man have been taking a selfie? (Probably not: wrong phone angle.) Did the sheer cuteness of the scene somehow blind him to the terrible inappropriateness of photographing little boys in states of undress? Well, it turns out this coin has no flip side.

In many states, photographing anyone in a locker room without their consent is illegal. Taking pictures of defenseless children is even worse. The man’s friendly demeanor is irrelevant; you should have told him to put down his phone. Then you should have reported the incident to the manager of the Y so that he or she could be aware of the episode and prevent its recurrence.

Happily, there is still time for you to do that. Maybe someone on staff will recognize the man from your description. Even if his behavior was innocent, it must stop.

It Takes Two to Feud

I am planning my son’s 2nd birthday party. We would like to invite all of my husband’s family who live nearby. However, his mother is not speaking to one of her sisters whom we would like to invite. My mother-in-law refuses to attend any event that includes this sister. My husband thinks we should invite his aunt anyway. I would hate for my mother-in-law to miss the party. But I would also hate to exclude the aunt over a feud we’re not involved in. Either way, someone’s feelings will be hurt. Advice?


Invite the aunt. It rarely pays to become involved in other people’s garden-variety feuds. Excluding just one relative in the area only entrenches hostilities and is needlessly hurtful. Even very small homes are large enough to accommodate two people who are not speaking for a couple of hours.

Now, for feuds where one party’s behavior was truly outrageous, we may reach a different decision. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. (You would have told us if the aunt burned down your mother-in-law’s house.)

Avoid pre-party theatrics by keeping the guest list quiet and downplaying possible drama. Let’s hope your mother-in-law chooses the happy occasion of her grandson’s birthday over animosity for a day.

Your Pension Is Nobody’s Business

I recently retired. Because of the identity of my employer and the number of years I worked for the company, people assume (correctly) that I receive a pension. But I am at a loss when someone who doesn’t know me says, “You must get a pension.” I don’t know how to reply. I would never ask a person how she supports herself. Aside from saying, “Yes, I receive a huge monthly pension,” what should I say?


My standard response to impertinent questions is: “Why do you ask?” It creates a small pause for people (who probably don’t mean to be rude) to realize that, aside from their naked interest, there is no legitimate reason for their question.

If you’d like to be a little saucier with these strangers who ask about your pension, respond: “Are you about to ask me for a loan?” When they exclaim they are not, drive home your point: “Well, I couldn’t imagine any other reason for asking about my finances.”

Define ‘Generous’

I have been teaching at my university for a long time. Recently, it created a graduate fellowship in my name. Appeals for donation were sent to colleagues, alumni, friends and relatives. The response has been surprising. People I don’t know have sent in large amounts of money, whereas people I see daily (and have lunch with) have kept their purses zipped. How do I loosen up these tightwads — I mean, these potentially generous donors — to help struggling students?


You sign your letter “Do-Gooder,” but I wonder if “Hungry Ego” would be more appropriate. If this fellowship weren’t named for you, would you be so worried about your friends’ and colleagues’ donations to struggling students? Many people have given generously in your honor. Congratulations!

As a general matter, though, it’s better to stay out of other people’s charitable giving. We all have our special causes and budgets, and the university is probably doing a fine job strong-arming people to donate to the new fellowship.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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