DEAR AMY: I find I need to make some changes. I swear I try to be open-minded and to see people as humans first and not to judge them by color, creed or educational background.
My specific areas of difficulty surround people who are blatantly of a different political stripe than I am and those who are significantly and more openly religious than I am.
I find that once I know people have sympathies with a political administration I don't favor, then I'm apt to dislike them and am unable to appreciate other qualities they might have that I would find worthy.
The same goes for people who sprinkle their conversations with religion or speak of religion in a way that makes it seem that all their thoughts and decisions come from their deity.
I feel very blocked in these areas and want to know what doors I need to open in my own mind to work this problem through. I'm asking you to please open my mind.
DEAR CLOSED: I can't open your mind — but you probably can.
I love your letter partly because — unlike many who write to me — you seem to want to change. (Most people want for someone else to change.)
You could try to do something I've been doing lately, and that is to consume roughly an equal amount of media slanted on both sides of the political equation.
It also helps to realize that no political side has a lock on obnoxiousness, hysteria or foolishness.
The essential truth is that everybody is different, people have a right to paint themselves in any political stripe they choose, and your inability or refusal to see the person beneath the beliefs tips you toward the bigot side of the scale.
The most gracious and socially adept people I know always find a way "in" as a way to get to know someone. They dip beneath the surface, ask questions and listen to the answers. If you do this you'll learn that even zealots have hometowns and favorite movies. Commonalities will trump differences.
DEAR AMY: My adult nephew changed his last name to his mother's maiden name. I think this hurt my brother, but he won't admit it.
My nephew claimed he got tired of having to spell his last name, but many last names have to be spelled. It wasn't that difficult to spell, in my opinion.
My nephew has an uncle who is quite well known in the sports world, and I can't help thinking he wanted to make that connection.
Also, my brother was divorced from the mother.
I feel that it was a flat-out insult to his father, with whom he had a good relationship before this. What are your thoughts?
— Ticked-Off Auntie
DEAR AUNTIE: This flat-out or merely perceived insult is your brother's business.
Your nephew may have complicated reasons for changing his name. If you've asked him directly about it and if he has provided an explanation, then you should take it at face value.
If you want to express your views and are also worried about your brother's feelings, then the best way to convey this is to state your case, followed by an open-ended question, i.e.: "I am sorry 'Junior' chose to change his surname, but I'm wondering how you feel about it?"
If your brother responds that he's fine, then drop it.
DEAR AMY: Often, when I treat friends to lunch, my guest will offer to pay the tip.
I always insist on paying for the meal, including the tip. Surely if I can pay for the meal, I can pay the tip.
Is it polite for a guest to offer to pay, or am I being overly sensitive?
One friend left an additional tip after I had already paid.
DEAR BAFFLED: Your guests are attempting to be helpful. They are trying to pitch in. Even if you feel their offers are clunky, you shouldn't interpret this as rude.
You might take another look at the amount you typically leave as a tip — your friends might be trying to send the message that you are undertipping.