Advice May 2011

What's Your Problem?


Why, when we describe a person as conservative, do we say that they are “to the right of Attila the Hun”? Just how right-wing was Attila the Hun?

D.W., Los Angeles, Calif.

Dear D.W.,

Attila the Hun was very right-wing, even compared with other Huns, who were, as a rule, advocates of small government, school choice, and beheading. Attila first came to public attention when he issued his “Contract With Mongolia,” which called for lower taxes, ending state subsidies for unfunded federal mandates, the pillaging of Scythia, and an end to collective bargaining. His decision to invade western Europe was motivated in part by a desire to dismantle the welfare state, and in part by a desire to rape government employees. Though Attila was in many respects a social conservative, he was also an advocate of postnatal abortion. After retiring from politics, he worked as an executive at Koch Industries, and appeared on Dancing With the Stars.

Can a man ever be truly satisfied with his life?

P.F., Seattle, Wash.

Dear P.F.,

No. Unless that man is Bono. Or Jay-Z. Bono and Jay-Z, I imagine, are satisfied. And if they aren’t, they should keep it to themselves.

I recently had my dog neutered, and I swear he’s mad at me. Before the neutering, he was the friendliest dog in the world. Now he keeps his distance and gives me, if I’m not mistaken, disapproving looks. How do I mitigate his anger?

B.C., Toronto, Canada

Dear B.C.,

You should explain to him, in a firm but empathetic tone, that his castration will reduce occurrences of undesirable sexually dimorphic behavior and testosterone-induced inflammation of the prostate, and will contribute other ancillary health benefits. Tell him you are confident that he will, in time, come to accept and even appreciate his new anatomy. Make it clear that he is not alone, and that he should continue to be honest and direct with you about his emotions. And if all this fails to soothe him, remind him that he’s a fucking dog.

I am a rising executive in a financial firm. I’m very shy and introverted, but I enjoy my job because I deal mostly with numbers, not with people. Because of my skills, I’ve been promoted four times in four years. But now a problem has come up: I’ve been invited to a “leadership retreat,” where executives are forced to “share” our feelings publicly and, even worse, participate in “trust games” designed to “break down barriers” between us. I am not capable of doing these things. How do I handle this?

J.R., Pasadena, Calif.

Dear J.R.,

I sympathize with your plight. Trust game is one of the most frightening terms in the English language, along with anthrax attack and potluck supper. For help with your question, I turned to a leader of the Introvert American community, the writer Jonathan Rauch. Here is what he suggests:

“You will be surprised at how well you do with the aid of a few simple stratagems. First, hide behind the extroverts. If all you do is look interested (this can be accomplished by raising the eyebrows approximately once a minute and keeping the eyes generally open, as opposed to shut), many of them will do your share of the ‘sharing.’ Second, act—as in, perform. It’s exhausting, and the stage fright you will experience isn’t fun, but remember, you’re not facing a very tough audience (see above). Third, take frequent breaks. Really any excuse will do: calls from home, pregnancy (this works better if you’re female), a need to empty your colostomy bag, etc. In most cases, a 10-to-15-minute break is good for an hour’s recharge.

“If none of that works, consider switching to a solitary, misanthropic profession, like writing advice columns.”

Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic. 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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