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We criticized a co-worker's parenting skills

The question

One of my spouse's workmates - someone who was instrumental in getting him into the company - has a daughter with a speech impediment. During a recent conference call, when everyone had left for a smoke break, my husband and I started discussing probable causes of the little girl's situation - e.g. maybe her parents didn't spend enough time talking to her as a baby. Most of the things that came out of our mouths shed a bad light on their parenting skills. I ended the conversation saying, "You can make lots of money, but that doesn't mean you'll have everything perfect in life." A few minutes later, my husband realized that his microphone was still on! We're worried that his workmate heard everything. He hasn't mentioned anything yet, but we're on edge here - especially since his boss has invited everyone's families to an upcoming dinner.

The answer

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Okay, I'm going to try to focus on the positive here.

Um … well, it's great you don't smoke! Actually, in this case maybe it would be better if you did: None of this would have happened.

Now, I understand you were speaking with an expectation of privacy, that under the auspices of inter-spousal chitchat we sometimes express thoughts and feelings we would never admit - we would be ashamed to admit - to the world in general.

I know my wife and I can get a little snarky, even catty, when we believe what we say is strictly entre nous.

But madam: Blaming some poor kid's speech impediment on her parents, speculating they didn't "talk to her enough," enters into another realm altogether. It's ignorant, arrogant, and I would even go so far as to say pretty callous, to boot.

(Terrible timing, too, what with The King's Speech just winning a bunch of Oscars and raising everyone's consciousness about speech impediments.) And since you were talking about someone who helped land your husband his job, and threw in that crack about his high-bracket cash flow, I think it's fair to add "ungrateful" and "envious" to the list of unattractive qualities on display here.

But I promised I'd focus on the positive. So let me say, first of all, that this kind of thing used to happen all the time when I worked in TV news. People would take a noisy trip to the bathroom, or diss the boss, or rip a colleague a new one - all while forgetting, to the amusement of everyone in the control room, that they still had a little microphone clipped to their lapel.

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So you're not alone. Secondly, let me say I believe this circumstance was sent by fate, God, your subconscious - whatever you choose to believe in - in order to help you become a better person.

It may be corny, but I believe in such things. While in my 20s, I fooled around with a friend's girlfriend behind his back (yes, I know, mea culpa, people, but it was a long time ago and I never said I was perfect). Strangely, in the midst of it, I lent him a book in which I'd stored some love notes from her.

When he found them, the fertilizer fully hit the fan. Luckily, my cuckolded friend - an ultra-buff mountain climber - was not the violent sort, or I would have been reduced to a bloody pulp with a hank of hair and teeth attached. As it was, I was the object of general censure for quite a while - or, as they used to say in Victorian novels: "Egad, I ate my chop alone in the club for some time after that."

In theory, I handed over that love-note-stuffed book "by mistake."

But really, as all my friend-pundits agreed - smirking, sniggering and shaking their heads in disbelief - it was obvious that my subconscious/guilty conscience wanted to bring my scurrilous skulduggery into the light of justice. I needed to be purified by the ire of my peers and repent my evil - or at the very least ultra-naughty - ways.

I think something along the same lines is in effect here. This faux pas, and the guilt you feel over it, was a thunderbolt sent by the gods to help you rein in your judgmental tendencies.

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In this case, though, if the parents of the girl don't say anything, I see no percentage in you volunteering an apology. If they confront you, by all means apologize as abjectly and humbly as possible. But if they say nothing (as I predict), it means either a) they didn't hear your remarks, or b) they just want to forget the whole thing.

Either way, blurting out an apology at your boss's dinner party may set your minds at ease, but it will only prolong the distress of the people you've hurt - and thus would be a selfish act, IMHO.

This is one of those blunders that can only be rectified by "good works." Become better people. Train yourselves to be more compassionate toward those with unfortunate and unavoidable conditions - and toward their parents, who, take it from me, may suffer more from their child's disability than the child herself does.

Do that and you'll have, I predict, a better time both in this life and the next, if there is one.

- Speaking of Victorian novels, a sharp-eyed reader and Jane Austen fan pointed out that I misquoted Pride and Prejudice in last week's column. The correct quote: "I have not the pleasure of understanding you." Pardon me: My memory, like the rest of me, is far from perfect. (Either way, it's a great example of how to talk to one's wife.) Thank you to my smart and literate readers for keeping me on my toes.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change, Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad and Damage Control, the book. [-space-]/p>

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