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Sunday, April 29, 2012
Must my civility be yours?
Last fall, I received an email from a columnist inToronto who noticed that I used a column she had written as one of the online readings for a class I teach on column on and opinion writing. The columnist
wrote to me to ask about the course as well as how I incorporated the readings
into the course.
I didn't know the columnist, but she had taken the time
to write to me with a reasonable question. It struck me that the civil thing to
do was to respond. So, I responded by email. I try to respond to emails I
regularly receive from readers of the column, even the angrier ones.
This raises the question, however, of whether it's wrong
for the receiver of a message not to respond to someone when they reach out in
a thoughtful manner whether it is by phone, conventional post, email or other
avenues. Or, given the shift and breadth of communication venues over the past
couple of decades, is it wrong for the sender to assume that the receiver is
only civil if response is via the same communications venue?
A few weeks ago, for example, after reading an editorial
that a former student wrote at a college where I used to teach, I sent him an
email congratulating him on the piece and also giving him some background I
believed he might find useful given the topic of his column. No response.
The silence would have made any devotee of Miss Manners
boil (if boiling in itself weren't an inappropriate response). C'mon. I know
that texting has replaced email as the immediate communication conduit of
choice, but how hard is it to acknowledge a kind gesture put forth in an email?
If you wrote to me via email and, rather than respond to
you in kind, I decided to find you on a networking site like LinkedIn to see if
we could connect, would that be uncivil? Or maybe I decide to see if you're on
Twitter so I can follow your posts, see if there's anything interesting, and
have a way to respond to you and you to me if we have a common interest.
Perhaps my choice was driven by a desire to set up a method of having an
ongoing conversation rather than a one-off email.
Many people still respond directly via the same method of
communication when you contact them. But given the new options that are
available, that's not the only way to respond. The right thing may still be to
acknowledge when someone reaches out to us, but there are many right routes
that can be taken to make such acknowledgements.
My former student's decision to find me on Twitter and
follow me to engage in occasional conversation was a right thing to do.
Increasingly, one person's email could be another's tweet.