Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Beware of the send button

A bivocational pastor friend of mine writes a monthly column for his local newspaper.  He shared with me a recent article in which he admitted recently sending an angry e-mail to a good friend of his.  His friend called him expressing surprise at his anger and some of the things that were said.  As their conversation ended apologies were offered and accepted, but my pastor friend knows that this will probably always have at least some impact on their future relationship.

Few things in recent years have done more to make life easier than e-mail.  (I am here excluding the many SPAM e-mails we each receive every day.)  E-mail gives us the opportunity to send out mass mailings or individual messages any time of the day.  With smart phones we don't even have to be at our computers to receive and reply to important messages.  Perhaps best of all, they don't cost 44 cents to send.  But, there are some serious dangers to e-mail as my friend learned the hard way.

Once you hit the send button your message is out there.  You may instantly regret sending that message, but it's too late.  It will be read, perhaps printed out, and distributed to others.   One of the problems with e-mail is that it is too easy to get upset about something, quickly type out a flame-throwing response, and hit the send button.  At least when we had to write a letter we had a chance to cool down a little before mailing it.  I've written a number of letters in the past that went into the trash when I finished them or at least before they went to the mail box.  It's just to easy to send something we'll later regret with e-mail.

Another problem with e-mail is that your words can be misinterpreted by the receiver.  I was once copied on some e-mails between two people.  They were disagreeing with one another, and yet from my perspective they were each saying the same thing only in different ways!  I finally stepped into their conversation and told them I thought they were essentially in agreement with one another and that I thought their conversation needed to happen in person and not through e-mails.  Fortunately, they both agreed, and in a face-to-face discussion worked out the small differences they had.  I've also had the unfortunate experience of being asked in an e-mail my perspective on something, and after responding having the questioner printing out my reply and using it to prove to others that I agreed with his position.  The problem was he only gave me a partial description of the issue.  My response would have been a little different if I had known the whole story.  I haven't made that mistake again!  Now if I'm asked my opinion on some issue I normally call the questioner and discuss it with him or her by phone.  My position can still be misused, but at least they don't have a document to wave around.

E-mails and other tech forms of communication are quite useful for ministry, but always remember that sin isn't that far away from the send button.  Don't respond by e-mail when you're angry or upset about some issue.  Don't send anything by e-mail that you would not want the entire world to read, because once it's sent there is no way you can control who will see it.  Avoid e-mails if your comments can be taken out of context.  Don't substitute e-mails for personal interaction with others.

One final thing about e-mail...why do people think that it's not necessary to use proper writing standards when writing e-mails?  This has nothing to do with sin; it has a lot to do with common courtesy.  The proper use of capital letters and punctuation make for much more enjoyable reading.  Writing in all capital letters suggests anger and should be avoided.  There is nothing wrong with starting an e-mail with Dear____ and ending it with a farewell and is simply a matter of courtesy.  Previewing e-mails and using spell checker is recommended as well.  You might not catch all your mistakes (I certainly don't.) but it does make your e-mails more professional and more enjoyable to read.

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