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Dr Leslie Cannold used to present Both Sides Now, but now she’s cutting to the chase: what’s the right thing to do? In Everyday Dilemmas, Cannold uses her ethical training to help solve your problems. Send your questions to [email protected] with “Dear Leslie” in the subject line. She might even reply…

Dear Leslie,

A friend of mine is having a nervous breakdown, or depression episode — I’m not sure which. Last time he got so bad he was catatonic. He’s also cancelling everything, just like last time, which means I don’t see him. My better half says I should call or text but nothing I’ve said so far has helped. Also, I don’t know what to say.

Tongue-tied in Tullamarine

Dear Tongue-tied,

That’s tough, for your friend and for you.

The good news is that just being there is the A-1 most important thing. As anyone who has experienced crime, violence, sexual assault, drug addition, illness, bereavement, mental illness etc will tell you, many “friends” fade away when the going gets tough or awkward. This can make the inherently isolating experience lonelier still.

Be a real friend by texting or phoning your friend just to let him know that you’re thinking about him and that you care. Do this as often as it feels right, anything from every few days to once a week: “Was thinking of you and wondering how you are today”; “Hi there, just thought I’d check in. Hope you’re alright.” I tend to leave it open-ended so the person can respond by either stamping an emoticon on my words, picking up the phone, or anything in between.

If you want to do more, check in with family members, both to acknowledge their pain and to get a fix on whether there is anything practical you can do to help — from bringing a casserole to taking your friend for a walk.

The most important thing to remember is that you can’t fix your friend. He needs and is hopefully getting professional help. (If not, find out from family members if your vocal support of that would help). Your only job is to let your friend know — in words and actions — that you are there.

Wishing you and him well,

Leslie

Dear Leslie,

What is the etiquette for Christmas cards? Happy holidays or season’s greetings (my preference) or — given all our friends and family are actually Christian — merry Christmas (my spouse’s preference), or just giving the whole thing a miss because who sends cards in the mail any more (my children’s preference).

Unmerry in Ultimo

Dear Unmerry,

Great question. However, I’m afraid that there is no shared etiquette for Christmas cards. That’s not surprising. Christmas is a celebration born of religion. Whether and how the cards that arose in Europe and have been sent to friends and family since the mid-1800s should — when sent by members of a faraway multicultural society — acknowledge other faiths and faith-based celebrations is a values question that remains in dispute.

Here’s what I think.  

The message: I prefer getting cards with a more inclusive message like greetings of the season. As a secular Jew, the latter message acknowledges and respects my difference while at the same time including me in the most important festival of the dominant group who have welcomed me to live among them. When I receive a card that says merry Christmas, it makes me wonder if the sender is clueless or, worse, resistant to diversity in some way.

Sending Christmas cards at all: Your children’s dismissal of sending cards as old-fashioned seems to align with trends. According to a 2014 infographic about Christmas cards more over-55s (91%) than 8- to 24-year-olds (72%) even intended to send them. The accompanying history of the card-posting tradition suggests that it was the affordability of postage at that time that led the trend to take off.

Now, of course, postage costs a bomb, and the mail is unreliable. There are also environmental issues with paper. For some — including me — this is enough to push me towards paperless cards — or none. Another advantage of the e-card is that the greeting can be adapted for different audiences. If you and your partner can’t agree on the message, you could easily send some cards with the message you want, and the rest with the one he prefers.

Best of luck and enjoy the holiday break,

Leslie

Send your dilemmas to [email protected] with “Dear Leslie” in the subject line and you could get a reply from Dr Cannold in this columnWe reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity.