Thursday, August 28, 2008

Civility...with a little help from the Internet

Okay, I'm not sure how I feel about this, but just the other day I read an article in The Washington Post about a website that allows you to send anonymous, helpful hints to friends and co-workers. The site,, gives you oh-so-polite ways to tell someone their breath stinks, their office behavior gets on your nerves, or that they have the fashion sense of some of those Red Carpet disasters we love to mock.

At one time or another we've all had the experience of catching someone with their slip showing or what is euphemistically referred to as doggie breath (no offense to the dogs of the world). Whether we broach the topic depends on the likely embarrassment quotient...for them and us. takes the embarrassment out of it, unless you happen to be on the receiving end of a message that says, for example, "It looks as if your zipper is down" or "a breath mint would be beneficial today." One actually focused on out-dated ties. Is this a big concern where you work?

At any rate, on a visit to the site, I found that in the office category, the item receiving the most hits lets someone know they're not being a team player. Let's say this anonymous note arrives in your inbox. Do you (a) straighten up and become a better co-worker or (b)launch an investigation into who in the office is the coward who sent it to you, rather than confronting the issue head-on?

By far the most hits (over 3200 when I checked) had been for the suggestion that a breath mint would be helpful, which may show that the world's priorities lean toward personal hygiene.

My personal favorite was one which politely suggests to a neighbor that they remember to close their blinds at night. Hmm? I do recall one instance when this would have come in handy. A friend holding a dinner party one night looked out of her window directly into the window of the house next door to find a couple actively engaged in what should be, generally speaking, an intimate, private moment. To this day I have an image I can't shake of her talking fast and furiously to keep everyone's attention focused on her...and not on the neighbors.

Do you think this anonymous form of communication means we've finally found a civilized way to mention the unmentionable? Or is this yet another way that we've found to let the Internet intrude into our lives in a way that actually lessens civility and encourages people to take pot-shots at one another? As I said, I have very mixed feelings about it, so I'd love to hear what you think. Click on comments below and send in your thoughts. Whatever you do, don't go to this site and send me an anonymous email about anything.

Sherryl Woods

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Renewing old friendships

I'm just back from several days in Ohio with two old college friends and their family and it's reminded me, yet again, of how important it is to keep these old friendships alive and well.

Way back at Ohio State, George and I worked for the Lantern, the student newspaper there. Later, when he and Carol were first married, we lived in the same apartment complex, where they had their first child, Kim. Kristi was born during a couple of years later, when we all lived in another complex. Kim and Kristi were as much a part of my life as if they'd been my own kids. I can tell many embarrassing tales about both of them, much to their regret, I'm sure.

Then George and Carol moved on to Cleveland and eventually I settled in Florida. They had two more children, another daughter, Keri, and a son, Kevin. Over the years, I've continued to see all of them off and on. I've taken the girls on trips --Kim and Kristi to San Francisco for their respective graduations from college and high school, all three of them to New York for one memorable Christmas outing just a few years ago. But in recent years, I've rarely seen all of them at the same time.

This trip, for the baptism of Kristi's daughter Morgan (after three boys!), fulfilled all of my fantasies about the joys of a large and rambunctious family. You see, I have only-child syndrome. Or maybe it comes from watching too many episodes of Little House on the Prairie. I idealize the whole concept of huge family gatherings. This past weekend, not only were there 40 or so of us at Kristi's house
-- her family and her husband's -- but many of us were back together at George and Carol's on Sunday. In addition there were excursions by boat on Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, a trip to Chagrin Falls and a memorable evening at a minor league baseball game during which Carol and I ducked a foul ball, only to watch as it slammed into a man standing -- and then not standing -- behind us.

George and I caught up on news of old friends from journalism school. We ate too much, slept not enough. It was great.

So, whatever you're doing, no matter how busy your lives, I recommend you find the time to spend with old friends. It's rejuvenating. And it reminds me of how rich my life is for having friendships that have lasted this long, friendships that run this deep. I hope you have the same.


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