I recently learned that a relative lost his job. Under those circumstances, is it appropriate to reach out to the person, to encourage them and let them know that they are in your thoughts? Or, would such an act cause them to think that everyone was talking about their misfortune, and to be embarrassed as a result? As the downturn continues, and more people lose their jobs, these kinds of questions of etiquette necessarily arise. If you know someone who has lost their job and is looking for a new one, should you ask them how the job search is going whenever you see them? If you don’t, will they think you don’t care about their difficulties and are ignoring what may be the most important issue in their lives? If you do, will they think you are touching on a sore spot, when they were hoping for a social get-together that could take their mind off their troubles? If you go out together, should you insist on paying in recognition of their hardship, or would that be considered patronizing?
I’m not sure that there is one right answer to these questions. I do know this — with the kinds of layoffs we have been reading about, and experiencing in our own families, everyone is dealing with these kinds of issues, which require a deft social touch and sensitivity. If you feel like you must tiptoe around land mines in your normal, daily interactions with friends and family, it just adds another layer of stress and concern on top of the more generalized stress and concern about how things are going.