When was the last time you got a snail mail that wasn’t a bill, or brochure, or sales pitch for a better mortgage rate? How long ago was that last newsy letter from a friend, or personal condolence note rather than an electronic card? Or a hand-written thank you for a party you’ve spent time and energy on? I can’t remember when I had the pleasure.
The days of communication via the USPS are long gone, as we seem to have lost the capacity for making simple gestures. When I give a party it is unusual to get even e-mail thank you’s afterwards. Recently one turned up in my in-box addressed not only to me as the hostess, but also as a greeting to all those who had attended the small gathering. Quickly, the original e-mail became a thread of “group” acknowledgments, as many people latched on and echoed its sentiments—rather than creating their own. The final addition to the thread expressed a guest’s gratitude with one word only: “ditto.”
This lack of a courteous and caring response leads me to reflect on why we just don’t seem to make much effort in this regard anymore. Stevie Nicks, the lead singer from Fleetwood Mac, describes the situation precisely and sums up our problem by pinpointing a single word:
Your graciousness is what carries you. It isn’t about how old you are, how young you are, how beautiful you are, or how short your skirt is. What it is, is what comes out of your heart. If you’re gracious, you’ve won the game.”
What we both are talking about is how we now choose to communicate and connect. We e-mail rather than write, we text instead of telephone. People have confessed to me that because a call gets too involved and takes too much time, shorthand texting is just “easier.” Why is talking to friends or family so “hard?” Don’t all of us deserve a little more attention that comes from the heart?
Maybe I am a dinosaur about all this because I spend my days reaching out in written form. While I don’t answer the phone during my working hours, I grab up the landline as soon as the afternoon ends. I love the rich sound of my friends’ and family’s voices, and the crucial connotations that email or text cannot convey.
Nearly two decades ago, I met my husband via an online dating service. At that time the match process included writing several essays about yourself. But on similar sites today, you only have to checkmark boxes on a list, revealing yourself with generalities—and without typing in a single word. No personal touch required.
Our lives today are packed with family commitments, work, exercise, answering emails, and dialing in on social media. Often frustrated and impatient, we require quick and continual stimulation in order to relax. How many of us spend our free time sitting in an armchair and reading a book—even on an e-reader? And surely everyone has seen the A T & T prime-time ad with the family whose Internet goes down, leaving them stranded—and absurdly frantic. Really?
I wonder whether we really need to live at such velocity. I am still “productive,” even if I am not a woman possessed with writing another chapter so late in the day that we have to go out to “catch a bite” on my night to cook—rather than making Brad’s favorite meatloaf. It is more than fine to go sailing with my husband and dogs, rather than answering Tweets or Facebook posts—though keeping an active social media platform is important for my career.
A handwritten thank you note, or phoning to say how happy I was to be included, is an important way of expressing my gratitude “in person.” And a Sunday-night, touch-base call to my sons, who live in such different worlds, is even more important. And fulfilling.
So pick up your pen, or dial that cell. It may take a little more of your time, but the person opening his mailbox or listening to your voice will be very happy that you did.