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Advice March 2010

What’s Your Problem?

Don't praise tyrants at dinner, and other advice
Jason Ford/Heart Agency

I collect antique Asian statues. Recently, my boss was over for dinner. In the past he has admired my collection, and two days after this dinner, I found that one of the statues was missing. I can’t help but think that my boss stole it. What should I do?

T. R., Denver, Colo.

Dear T. R.,

I suggest employing what I call the Modified Tell-Tale Heart Strategy. Inform your boss that one of your prized statues has gone missing, and that you think it was stolen. Your heart is broken, you don’t know what to do. Ask him, if he happens to come across one like it, to please buy it, and you’ll gladly repay him. If your boss is not a sociopath (some of my bosses have not been sociopaths, so this is a real possibility), the MTTHS will work like a little guilt-worm on his conscience, and he will one day (four to six months from now, is my guess) give you a remarkably similar statue. If he refuses payment, then you’ll know he stole it.

I fly frequently, and because of cutbacks at my company, I now fly coach. Have flight attendants always been so surly in coach? One actually yelled at me for standing up to get something from my bag while the seat-belt sign was on. I’m a grown man. I don’t appreciate getting yelled at by a $30,000-a-year flight attendant.

J. F., New York, N.Y.

Dear J. F.,

You have much in common with your senior senator, Charles Schumer. Recently, Schumer was on his phone while waiting for his flight to take off. A flight attendant told him to hang up. He refused. She asked again, and he muttered “Bitch” as she walked away. Unfortunately for him, he muttered “Bitch” within earshot of a Republican operative with media connections. His main sin, though, was to say aloud, when his phone rang again: “It’s Harry Reid calling. I guess health care will have to wait until we land.” I get the sense you believe yourself to be important as well. Perhaps you are, in your own mind, indispensable. But this belief, when acted on, will get you into trouble, particularly with people who earn less than you do but nevertheless believe themselves to be human beings, and worthy of respect. Next time, stay in your seat.

I’m a gay man who has, for the first time, fallen truly, madly in love. The problem is, I’ve fallen for the brother of the man my sister recently married. The brother (my brother-in-law?) is gay too, but he doesn’t know of my deep desire for him. Would this relationship just be too complicated for one family? I believe it would work, and I don’t want to pass this one by.

B. T., Miami, Fla.

Dear B. T.,

Dating, or even marrying, your sibling’s spouse’s sibling is not morally egregious. It certainly does not fall in the category of Things You Must Not Do, such as murder, money laundering, or putting uncooked rice in the garbage disposal. There is nothing risky genetically (particularly in your case, unless I’ve missed some recent developments). Nevertheless, you are right to be concerned: the chance for overlapping emotional messiness is fairly strong. But if The Atlantic has stood for anything over these past 153 years, it is that love should not be passed by. (Also, the abolition of slavery.) So ask him out. Otherwise, you’ll lead a life filled with regret.

At a dinner recently, I was praising Oliver Cromwell for his opposition to monarchical tyranny, and a friend of Irish descent took great umbrage because of Cromwell’s record of anti-Irish persecutions. He was so angry that he didn’t speak to me for the rest of the night. How do I apologize, without repudiating what I believe?

P. D., Columbus, Ohio

Dear P. D.,

I faced a similar situation once. An acquaintance told me that although Hitler was a mass murderer, his opposition to smoking and advocacy of vegetarianism made him a public-health pioneer. I responded by saying something akin to “Go shit in the ocean.” I understand, in other words, your friend’s sensitivity. I also understand why you don’t want to denounce Cromwell. But you could say “I was not aware of the depth of Cromwell’s genocidal anti-Irish rage, so now I see your point, and I hope we can talk about this.” Also, might I suggest that next time you choose a less fraught dinner-table topic, like abortion?

Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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