Be Kind, Reply

Photo by Christopher Baker

[Note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of Real Simple.]

How do we feel about the fact that most party invitations are now digital? I am not going to use this space to lament the decline of paper invites, although I certainly could. After all, there’s something magical about getting a beautiful invitation in the mail. Sadly, an Evite spit out of my black-and-white printer and tacked to the kitchen bulletin board just doesn’t provide the same...magic.

But I digress. A few weeks ago, a truly weird thing appeared in my in-box: an Evite to a party thrown by people I had never heard of, in a town I didn’t know. It was a housewarming party, and “part 1″ at that. I had absolutely no idea why I had received the invitation, was certain that it was a mistake, and didn’t know how to handle it. And so I did what I often do with e-mail when in doubt: I hit DELETE.

Then I read our spectacular “Proper Etiquette for Every Occasion” and was reminded that every invitation needs a reply (and pronto). Even if the invitation is a mistake, even if it’s a mysterious “part 1,” even if it’s from strangers in New Jersey.

Since its launch 14 years ago, Real Simple has been a calm refuge in a clamorous world. We offer readers the “right” way to do things—which, where human behavior is concerned, is often the kind way. Remember this, perhaps my all-time favorite quotation, from Henry James: “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” Even, or especially, when in doubt.

Etiquette is such an old-fashioned word. I doubt my teenage boys could even tell you what it means. (Although, being teenagers, they are full of surprises, some actually good.) But while etiquette on a micro level is the set of rules that tells you it’s OK to eat asparagus spears with your fingers, on a macro level it’s simply rules for the right way to behave. The rules of kindness, as it were. It is knowing how to make other people feel comfortable, cared for, appreciated, considered, heard.

And so, to the New Jersey sender of the mysterious house party, part 1, Evite: I’m sorry I hit DELETE. I should have at least replied to say, “Don’t think you meant to send this to me, but it sure looks like fun!”

P.S. If you are as obsessed with our June cover dog as I am, you will want to know that his name is Mikey. He is an 11-year-old pug. He can sit for long stretches of time with a flower in his mouth without moving. And, yes, he is a professional model. For behind-the-scenes footage from the cover shoot (shot from Mikey’s perspective), go to