The Ethical Dilemma: Bedside Proselytizing, Offensive Art

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Praise the Lord You Survived: I just had an accident leaving me with injuries in both feet, so I’m going to be immobile for quite a while. While I love getting calls and visits from people I like, I’m surprised that people I’ve never been close to or  fond of are suddenly swarming all over me. A number go on and on about praying for me and about how my positive attitude is a testament to my strong belief in god (no, it’s my strong belief in medical science). Some of them are demanding to come to the hospital and my home to visit, even though I’ve never even had coffee with them before. While it’s no big deal for me to be pleasant on the phone and then make an excuse to get off, I don’t want these people plopping next to my bed and preaching at me for hours. Should I just keep telling them I need rest or have doc appointments for the next few months rather than let them know they’re not welcome?

—Sitting Duck

Dear Duck,

Your problem is preferable to having too few well-wishers. There are certain people who spring into action when others are in distress. Some can be extraordinarily helpful and attuned to your needs, while others are just fulfilling needs of their own, sometimes laudable, sometimes a bit creepy.

While your difficult situation is no excuse to be rude to others, you first and foremost must attend to your own needs. So continue to nod (or nod off) through the phone calls and end them (“Sorry, gotta go now”) when you’ve had enough. But don’t permit in-person visitors who would be more draining than sustaining to invade your home. This is not a good time to debate theology or spend time with people you’d ordinarily avoid. Tell them you’ll call them when you feel up for a visit, and explain that right now you need repose more than stimulation. If in doubt, set up a brief visit with a specified endpoint and a way to enforce it, such as “Here’s my physical therapist.” But keep an open mind: You may discover good sides you hadn’t seen in people you never particularly cared for before. But whether you choose to take up or reject offers to attend to you, take good care of yourself and in time you’ll be able to dance away from unwelcome angels of mercy.


Objets d’art or Derision? My friend has one of those wrought iron jockeys on her front lawn. When you enter her house, you are greeted by a life-size figure of a servant/slave holding a tray upon which she puts her keys and sundries, and just beyond that she has huge early Aunt Jemima box on display. I’ve told her these objects make her look like a racist. She argues that they’re valuable antiques and just fun. She happens to be Jewish, so I would expect her to be more sensitive about such things.


Dear Cringe,

Has your friend been following the Paula Deen fallout lately? How does she think her decorations would be received by an African-American visitor to her home? How would she feel if she visited a house that displayed Nazi “collectibles” depicting Jewish stereotypes? Or the kinds of images of women that often adorn big rig trucks? How would she react to such things, and what would they say to her about the people surrounding themselves with these “art forms”?

People are free to express themselves however they choose in the privacy of their own homes, but others are free to judge their taste (or lack thereof). You might suggest relocating these treasures to less prominent locations–or donating them to a museum. But it’s up to her to show off her questionable tchotchkes if that’s how she chooses to roll.

Joan Reisman-Brill is a writer based in New York City and certified Humanist Celebrant. She received her BA in English literature from the University of Chicago, an MA also in English lit from the University of Michigan, and an MBA in management and marketing from New York University. She has worked in public relations, marketing and myriad facets of writing and editing for nearly four decades. She has been steadily increasingly her humanist identification and activism at an accelerating rate, and while she doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, she welcomes this opportunity to tackle the questions.