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Etiquette Lesson 1: How to Politely End a Conversation With an Irrational Person

Many years ago, I took a several-weeks long etiquette course from a lady of aristocratic European descent. Out of great care for my reader friends, I will be sharing with you the lessons I learned, so all of us can have the manners that matter.

"Never argue with stupid people...They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience."  -Mark Twain

Is it just me or has the population of irrational people dramatically increased in this world? And I don't just mean a little odd, I mean full crazy-crazy.

(Kindly note: when I use the word "crazy," I am not referring to the mentally ill, who have my utmost compassion. One of the definitions of crazy is "senseless," and it is this meaning that I utilize.)

These past few weeks, my husband Charles and I seemed to meet many without any sense at all:

-An elderly gentlemen who insisted that in the Bible, God never asks His followers to tithe (give ten percent of what they earn), rather He demands wealthy people give 70 percent of their money to the poor. (Here is a link to the Bible; if someone every finds those 70 percent verses, please let me know.) 

-A middle-aged lady with huge hair who stated emphatically that the words "separation of church and state" are written in the Declaration of Independence. (Here is a link to our Declaration; if someone ever finds those words in it, again please let me know.) 

-A young man who was getting an Ivy League education to "make a lot of money," but who stated that all other people who currently make a lot of money are "evil."

We encountered the three examples above at very different social situations, therefore, the proper response varied. Below are appropriate ways to politely end a conversation with an irrational person, based on whatever circumstances you find yourself.

1. Formal - this would be a wedding, funeral, or baptism. Your focus on these events should be completely on who is being honored: the persons being married, the one who passed, or the little baby who is being christened. When you meet someone strange, simple say, "It was so nice to have met you, but I need to greet our hosts now," and then walk away.

2. Semi-formal - these events are planned but are not as sacred as formals. Examples would be a birthday party, retirement celebration, or a dinner gathering. The focus here is to enjoy a milestone or time with friends. You can say, "It was nice speaking with you, but I haven't said hello to so-and-so yet so I should really go to them," and then move to another crowd.

3. Casual - a barbecue, Superbowl party, or any relaxed assembly with people going to and fro without a set beginning and ending time. "It was great chatting with you but I think [name of person hosting the event] may need some help," and then go to your friend.

4. Professional - this is a workplace or educational environment. (Common sense reminder: do not use this tactic when your boss or professor is speaking with you.) When a co-worker or colleague is peculiar, you can say, "Thank you for your input. But I really should get back to work/studying now."

5. Random - what I call unexpected meetings that can occur anywhere, such as the grocery store, shopping mall, theater, church, or anywhere else you go. "I hope you have a wonderful day," before you exit quickly is always a polite response.

Do not lose your inner calm when you encounter an irrational person. Your initial impulse may be to reason with them to prove that you are right, but please try to refrain from doing so.

Having manners takes a lot of discipline: smiling when you would prefer to frown, keeping your voice even instead of raising it, remaining calm when you are angry, and walking away rather than having a confrontation.

As to what Charles and I did...

The elderly man we met a reception, following a funeral. Therefore, Charles and I smiled and stated, "It was lovely meeting you," and then walked into another room.

The big hair lady was at a county fair, where Charles and I were volunteering for our church. We politely said, "It was wonderful talking with you, but we need to say hello to so many others, so please excuse us, and we hope you have a great day."

The young man was a fellow guest at a dinner party. The situation could have been contentious, as I felt Charles's hand that I was holding stiffen with anger. Thankfully, our hostess was schooled in manners and immediately changed the subject to one of an impending storm for the area.

Remember: people have a right to be as irrational as they want to be, and to hold whatever thoughts and beliefs they wish. However, you have a right to choose who you will speak to and when to end a conversation.
By: Kristia Markarian