Thursday, January 26, 2017

Think before you send




    At times the email seems like those hordes in the "Resident Evil" movies, just an endless sea of snarling malice racing up at you.
     I used to answer it, or try to. But lately I've been dumping emails as soon as I read the first sneering word. No use letting that stuff behind the wall, into your brain. Block the writer and fling the odiferous thing, like a used diaper, into the trash.    
    Not all email of course. Response to the past few columns have been tightly grouped, like filings curling off the poles of a bar magnet. On one end are people aghast at Donald Trump actually doing what Donald Trump promised to do—lashing out at immigrants, minorities, the sick, science, the environment. They are polite, grateful to see reality as they understand it reflected in the newspaper. I thank them profusely.
    And then there are the "You lost, deal with it," crowd. For a while I'd reply, "You won, deal with it," and try to explain that, given the past eight years of bitter partisan blockade of literally everything Barack Obama tried to do, they don't have a leg to stand on. But the word "hypocrite" started waving its hand, and I started to picture myself in the publisher's office, explaining why I'm sending nasty notes to readers.
    Nobody wants that.
    Just before I stopped replying altogether, I found myself firing off a reply, pausing, deleting that—archiving it, as if it mattered—then writing a briefer, more temperate reply. That took even more time, and I quickly abandoned the practice. But I did save a pair, which give you a sense of the process.

The email:

Sir,

I am very upset over your column today in paragraph 4 you reference the Trump victory with the help of "neo-Nazis". I voted for Trump as did millions of other American citizens. I am far from being a "neo-Nazi. I think you owe an apology to millions of prople.

Jim K.
Orland Park IL

The first response I wrote:

Jim--

The fact that Trump was supported by neo-Nazis, and he welcomed that support, does not make everyone who voted for him a neo-Nazi. That said, you did vote for the guy who welcomed neo-Nazi support. I can't blame you for being very upset. You should also be ashamed. I would be. If it's an apology you're looking for, I'm very sorry that you and people like you voted for Donald Trump. I imagine soon you'll be sorry you voted that way too. Thanks for writing.

NS

The response I actually sent:

Jim--

I'm sorry to hear you're very upset. But I am not responsible for what upsets people. It's an upsetting world. Thanks for writing.

NS


The email:

Happy New Year.
Although most times I find your articles tough to read.  I don't know you personally, but they take on a condescending tone usually.  I read you anyway to get an alternative angle.
I took particular interest on 12.30.16. I rather enjoyed it, thoroughly in fact.! It was true and actually funny. 
"Drunk people are the best ambassadors for sobriety imaginable." That was my favorite. I intend on "borrowing" parts for one liners in the future. Especially the ending, hilarious.! 
Thank you.

The first response I wrote:

Hmmm. You don't like the stuff generally, because you find reading it difficult and feel condescended to. But now you've struck on something that, for some reason, you like, and you're squeezing out a half-ass compliment before seizing one line as your own so you can pretend to be wittier than you are. 

Is that the situation? Have I summarized your note accurately?

Let's see, rejecting the criticism as something that says a lot more about you than it does me, someone who doesn't take pointers from people who don't like me anyway, I unfortunately can't accept the praise either. The phrase, of course, is yours to grab. Thanks for reading.

NS

The response I actually sent: 

The line is all yours. Thanks for writing.

NS

10 comments:

  1. Nobody seems to appreciate the irony of this "He's President now, he deserves our support" lecturing coming followers of the man who spearheaded all the birther garbage eight years ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. there are also others of the liberal progressive bent who have been saying this as well. granted now that he actually has taken the oath of office and begun to act on some of his " policy" concerns, it is an even less palatable proposition to support him or the 115th congress

      Delete
    2. If they could appreciate irony, they wouldn't support him.

      Delete
  2. Was it Pascal that wrote, "Sorry for the long letter, but I didn't have time to write a shorter one."?

    john

    ReplyDelete
  3. Doesn't seem fair; readers get to vent, dumping all their anger/frustration/prejudices onto you and those in your position, while you have to tread carefully. I would think that ignoring those emails is the best way to deal with it, but it's admirable to try and reason with them, knowing it's often a futile endeavor, especially since acknowledging them only serves to encourage another nutty response.

    SandyK

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  4. I still like your first response to Jim better.

    Bitter Scribe

    ReplyDelete
  5. Neil seems to have hit upon a way to enjoy the best of both worlds: indulging himself therapeutically with the balm of his archived response, and then being able to gain satisfaction from his correspondent's probable disappointment at failing to to provoke an angry response.

    In one of his Rambler essays, "An Author's Writing and Conversation Contrasted," Dr. Johnson cited numerous examples of famous men, when encountered in person, falling disappointingly short of the impressions made by their writing. One thinks that Neil's tactical use of this phenomenon would meet "the Great Cham's" approval.

    Tom Evans

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's flattering Tom. Though archiving the emails struck me as vain and pointless, and I think I did it more to post here than anything else. My strategy with emails is to reply gratefully and succinctly to those who say something cogent, and to ignore the rest. There's no point in answering hostile writers; it never ends well. Never.

      Delete
    2. And the more you say, the more likely that a hostile writer could pull out some out-of-context remark to embarrass you with.

      john

      Delete
  6. Sounds good. Life is too short. I do still like the responses you actually sent. A soft answer turneth away wrath and all that, but I doubt your two correspondents were much pleased.

    TE

    ReplyDelete