Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Increasing civility by writing letters

A friend and colleague just found a long-lost letter I had written him when he was an undergraduate and I was working on my dissertation research in Pakistan, which he scanned it and sent to me.  Neither of us remembered our initial meeting in 1988, nor the correspondence. 
Apparently he had asked me about coming to join me as an assistant.  And, in polite prose, I responded about what it would take.  He ended up not joining me and evolved into an award winning tropical biologist.  It’s tempting to wonder what career trajectory he would have taken had he joined me for a summer in Pakistan.
Only many years later, did we reconnect (not that either of us remembered connecting in the first place) and I’m delighted when he comes and teaches at the field station where I spend my summers because we get to hang out.
The striking thing about this letters is how different it is from my typical emails these days.  Now, I typically write early hominid emails; you know, a few grunts and groans, perhaps a pleasantry or two, but not real prose.  Not polite, civil prose.
It has become even worse now that I respond to a lot of my email on a smart phone where typing comes with costs.
Here’s a thought experiment:  what if we slowed down and fully responded to folks with polite letters?  Do you think this would be a way to enhance civility and civil discourse?  I don’t know, but it’s worth a try!

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