I believe you handled the situation with grace and intent, Sam . Your message was well stated. It’s sad, however, that it had to be delivered at all, particularly at your mother’s table.

Situations like that are tough. Even personal rules for what is acceptable and how you will respond cannot be applied without some consideration of the person (her age, in this case), the context, those in attendance, the venue, and the intent. We don’t live in a vacuum. Words are not uttered in a vacuum. You make choices on how to respond according to the particulars.

My husband is from another country where nicknames are common and often relate to someone’s appearance or intelligence. An overweight friend might be called their language’s equivalent of fatty, a not-too-bright person may be called the equivalent of dummy, a man with little hair baldy, and so on. Perfectly acceptable in his homeland, completely inappropriate here. Try as I may, I can’t get him to understand that his penchant for nicknaming everyone is not okay here! He is close to the age of the woman in your story. A connection? Perhaps. My husband has no malice or derogatory intent. He is intelligent and has lived here long enough to know what is acceptable and what is not, but he can’t seem to shake his cultural inclination for nicknames.

I agree totally that intent is usually not a good excuse but maybe, in some situations, it is. Perhaps, there are limits to how much people can change, especially beyond a certain age.

I don’t know. I am thinking out loud as I write this, trying to figure out the answer as I go. We long for absolutes to make decisions and responses easier, clearer, and automatic. We like always and never and feel uncomfortable with maybe, but, and sometimes.

I know one thing, Sam, there were times in my life I was darn glad someone allowed me a but and a maybe. And, based on that alone, I feel the need to allow some wiggle room when it comes to absolutes.

And, that is why I say your response was both frank and measured but not harsh or rude. You honored yourself, your race, and allowed your mother’s guest to feel comfortable enough to remain in the place your mother granted her. By doing that, you honored your mother. Tell her about the exchange. She might think twice before inviting the woman again or she may gift her friend a but and a maybe.

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I was always a writer but lived in a bookkeeper’s body before I found Medium and broke free — well, almost. Working to work less and write more.

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