Looking too extreme? Blame e-mail
Tony Gilchrease learned a valuable lesson about e-mail a couple of weeks ago. A lesson some of us who regularly use electronic mail have already learned once or twice.
Don’t hit the “send” button unless you want the whole world to read it. And make sure you read it three or four times before you do to ensure it doesn’t make you sound too … too … how to say this politely … stupid. Or crazy. Or vicious. Or whacked. Or … or … extreme. Yeah … that’s the word. Extreme.
If you missed the excitement, a group of presumably peaceful people wanted to use the taxpayer-owned meeting room at the county schools office in Nevada City to share information with anyone interested in avoiding the military. I recall similar meetings in the late 1960s and early 1970s as the draft board was looking for young bodies to send to Vietnam. There was always Canada, but most of my San Francisco friends didn’t want to go there because they hated hockey and couldn’t pronounce “Eh?” correctly. I knew a guy who slept with cigarettes stuck under his armpits the night before his military physical. He got sick as a pig and flunked the physical. Something about nicotine seeping into your open pores for 12 straight hours.
Anyway …this planned meeting at School Superintendent Terry McAteer’s conference room sounded pretty non-confrontational. It was slated for a Saturday and nobody was being forced to attend. Unlike students on school campuses, where military recruiters often roam in search of young bodies that might look great in camouflage and boots.
Unfortunately, you never know what’s going to push the wrong button here in Nevada County, and that innocent-looking brief about the planned meeting that we published May 21 pushed a wrong button. Tony Gilchrease’s wrong button, to be precise. Within three hours of our paper hitting the porches, the chair of the Republican Central Committee sent an e-mail to several interested parties (including me), warning that the “peaceniks” were preparing to meet in McAteer’s meeting room and that we should contact McAteer immediately to ask him to stop the meeting.
Only Tony’s note wasn’t as nice as my summary of it. Here’s what it said, exactly:
“See Article in this morning’s UNION A3, VOLUNTEERS SOUGHT TO DISSUADE MILITARY SIGNUPS. Please note that this Peace Group of Anit-Americans [sic] and al Quida supporters, as far as I’m concerned, are holding their rally and “training” at the Nevada County School Superintendent’s office. I suggest each one of you that feel as outraged as I am about this, call Terry McAteer, a Republican and the Nevada County School Supt. and tell him how you feel about allowing traitorous activity to occur on Nevada County School owned property.” Then it gave Terry’s phone number.
The meeting was eventually moved after McAteer and the event organizer received several angry phone calls.
Tony’s e-mail is a glaring example of all that’s wrong in Nevada County today. What we have here, said the warden in “Cool Hand Luke,” is a failure to communicate. And I blame e-mail for that.
Most of our Letters to the Editor, for example, come via e-mail. And generally they come from folks who are mad about something, so they rush to their computer, pound the keyboard for a couple of minutes, and press the “send” button, launching an electronic missile straight toward our electronic “Letters” mailbox.
There was a time when letter writers had to write it all out longhand, which allowed time to cool off, especially after three or four revisions.
So what e-mail users need is to create their own cooling-off period. They need to create a space to vent between the time they hear, read, or see something that really frosts their yo-yo and the time they actually send the electronic message.
In Tony’s case, for example, he should have finished his e-mail and then gone out for some pizza, or perhaps even some fresh air to get his head right. Then he could have returned to his computer and re-read his message, recognizing that it wasn’t very constructive and that it might fall into the wrong hands (mine, for example).
For the sake of discussion, let’s see how we could have re-written Tony’s note to say the same thing less aggressively.
For starters we’d probably need to eliminate all of the “loaded terms,” such as “Anti Americans” and “Al Quida supporters.” I read the story advancing the meeting several times and it said nothing of the kind. Tony made all of that up.
He could have simply written: “My fellow Republicans. I come to you with a heavy heart. According to our wonderful local newspaper this morning, some peace-loving people are going to use Terry McAteer’s meeting room tomorrow to try to dissuade our young people from military service. If you care as much as I do about that, kindly contact Terry at (insert phone number) immediately. With Love and Kindness, Tony.”
Had he done that he could have saved us the subsequent electronic letters such as this: “Tell that Tony that he and his cronies are a bunch of boogers, and bullies and noogies and … and … poopheads. And the next time they try to stop us from having a peace rally we’ll rip their heads off and spit down their necks!”
If we want our leaders to learn a little diplomacy, we’ve got to show them the way. So let’s start that process by eliminating terms such as, right-winger, left-winger, peaceniker, war-monger, tree-hugger, land-raper and …my favorite …noodle-head.
Unless you can prove it.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays.
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