Monday, October 10, 2005

Curious about Mail: Are You Using It to Your Advantage?

Long ago, Abraham Lincoln rightly wrote, “If a fellow wants to be a nobody in the business world, let him neglect sending the mailman to somebody on his behalf.”

More recently John M. McHugh wrote, “Unlike then, the mail stream of today has diminished by such things as e-mails and faxes and cell phones and text messages, largely electronic means of communication that replace mail.”

You are probably wondering why I chose this topic?

I just returned from my yearly trip to Jonesborough, Tennessee, where the National Storytelling Festival is held. More than 10,000 people attend and listen to storytellers for three days and two nights. Not only are the stories filled with humor and pathos, they are also filled with wisdom and creativity.

One of my favorite storytellers, Kathryn Tucker Windham from Selma, Alabama, mentioned that she doesn’t use anything invented past 1950 and still manages to “get along just fine.” This means that she still has a rotary phone and no computer, cell phone or PDA.

From this statement, she proceeded to talk about mail (now called “snail mail” by those of us who communicate through e-mail). The woman sitting next to me said, “Amen. I would never get into e-mail.” Receiving more than 400 e-mails a day, I just can’t imagine not using it. But, I also love snail mail and find the advantages of using it.

Lincoln and McHugh are both “right on” in the above statements.

Yes, in this day and age we receive fewer and fewer hand written notes and letters. If you are at all like I am, they are contained in the first envelope(s) that I open. I also read the hand written post cards first - don’t you?

What this means is that if we want to be noticed, read and make a good impression, we need to send snail mail along with well written and courteous e-mails.

And, that brings me to my concern about mail of all sorts. Of course, we are all dealing with spam, but let’s consider just the handling of mail that we send or receive. Three quotes that made me think are the following:
  • Peter Coyote stated the unfortunate, “I would say 90 percent of my mail and phone calls are from people who want some kind of help or succor or commitment from me to do something.” Is this the result of your mail?
  • I applaud Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau for writing, “One has to get through a big pile of mail every day. I don't pass my letters on to a secretary; rather, I try to take care of all of them myself.” Having a quick and personal answer to snail or e-mail makes a huge difference. Your correspondents feel that you care.
  • And, take to heart the final warning from James Fallows, “Always write angry letters to your enemies. Never mail them.”

Even if you are familiar with the Internet and e-mail, I feel that it never hurts to update our e-mail etiquette. The following websites have value in this arena:

Next time, however, you want to thank someone or make someone feel special, don’t forget snail mail. You will be amazed by the attention you generate!