Seriously? He Gets an Early Vaccine?

Many years ago, my sister married a young politician whose views are very different from hers and mine. I talked to her about it; she said they were good at compartmentalizing. Over time, his positions grew worse. He spent last year, for instance, downplaying Covid-19 and ignoring safety precautions. (I don’t know what compartment my sister put that in!) Now I’ve learned he took a Covid vaccine when legislators were offered them. He is not a health care worker, elderly or at risk. People could die because of his selfishness! How can I talk to my sister about this? I love her, but I can’t take it anymore.

SISTER

I get your frustration at watching coronavirus deniers receive vaccines before many frontline workers and others at high risk. But this is about your sister, right? Do you really think that, after “many years,” she has any doubt that you disagree with her husband’s politics? She wasn’t the architect of the program that offered early vaccines to certain officials to ensure continuity of government.

So, what do you hope to accomplish here? Nothing you say to your sister is going to influence her husband’s views. Lashing out at her about him may make you feel better for a second, but it won’t change much (besides alienating her). Even a more subtle critique — that she is complicit with him — is unlikely to have an effect. Putting people on the defensive rarely does.

Here’s my (challenging) advice: Peel away your brother-in-law’s politics from your sister and approach her with love. No criticism, just support. When she feels safe, she may begin to confide in you about any ambivalence she feels. Then you can engage her gently. Maybe you’ll understand her better. But if you want to slam her husband, save your breath.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

I found two gift cards from a department store on the ground while I was out walking. I discovered they have a combined balance of $440. I asked customer service if the cards could be traced to their purchaser or recipient, but the representative said no. Should I go ahead and use them or perhaps pay them forward in some other way? The money’s already been spent to buy them.

A.M.

Doesn’t it seem strange that people are still willing to plunk down good money for gift cards that aren’t linked to them or their recipients in the utterly predictable case of loss? They’re just cash with a veneer of security.

Assuming the cards can’t be traced, here’s a two-step suggestion: Wait a month. It’s possible that the buyer of the gift cards will bring proof of purchase to the department store and argue successfully for replacement cards, voiding the ones you now hold.

After that, though, if there is still $440 on the cards, call your local homeless shelter or food pantry and ask what the organization needs that you could buy at the department store. Then use the cards to do it. If you want a personal reward for your trouble, make it a small one. These are painful times for so many.

On Giving Tuesday, I sent an email to close friends requesting no gifts this year. I welcomed donations to my favorite charity instead. One friend replied that her gift was already on its way: a Facebook Portal, a video calling device. But she knew that I had deleted Facebook over privacy concerns and its failure to curb misinformation. The last thing I want to do is help Facebook grow bigger! Still, my friend has asked me several times to set up the device so we can video chat. I shared my concerns and offered to send the gift to any of her friends who might enjoy it. Now she’s upset with me. Advice?

M.

Normally, there is no reason to share anything but delight at our friends’ gifts. I respect your objections here, though. So, circle back to your friend and apologize for not thanking her sufficiently for her gift — even if you thanked her plenty. Clearly, that wasn’t her takeaway. You don’t have to install Facebook again or use the device, but make sure your friend knows you’re grateful for her generosity and for thinking of you.

I stay up-to-the-minute on news and pop culture events (probably to the detriment of my mental health). What should I do when a friend starts telling me a long story about some current event that I’m well aware of? Is there a polite way to say: “Yes, I know about that already”? I don’t want to seem like a know-it-all.

T.L.

There’s nothing rude about breaking in gently when friends start recounting a story we already know. The awkward part is snatching the conversation away from them, mid-speech, and hanging onto it.

Avoid this problem by saying: “Yes, I saw that. What do you make of it?” You skip the summary of the story you already know but return the mic quickly to your friends so they can take the conversation wherever it is they intended to.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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