Our End of the Bargain by Bill Bussey, Provost
Two months ago Dwayne’s Photo, located in Parsons, Kans., (pop. 11,000), processed the last roll of Kodachrome, the 35 mm color film first produced by Eastman-Kodak in 1935 and justly celebrated by musician Paul Simon in 1973. It got me thinking as to what was going to fall by the wayside next. Surely CDs and analog TVs are ready to join the diminishing ranks of milkmen, drive-in theaters, and classified ads. During the holidays, I received a few more “cards” via email then I did last year. So I can’t help but also wonder how much longer we will be using the U.S. mail service or even bothering to write notes to each other.
Case in point: A number of years ago a young student who had gotten into a little trouble was told to write letters of apology to his teachers. A week later no letters had arrived despite the student’s insistence that they had been written and sent. I had the student walk me through the process and found that he had indeed placed the letters of apology in his mailbox for the mailman to pick up. So what had happened? Although each letter was correctly addressed to the Noble and Greenough School, there was no return address on the envelopes, and more importantly, there were no stamps attached. When asked why he didn’t use stamps, the student replied that since the letters were not going very far, in essence they were “local”, he didn’t believe any postage was necessary.
Before you laugh in disbelief, know that this student, like almost all of his peers, rarely uses the U.S. mail. In fact, it is those of us with limited computer skills that are out of it. When our kids watch us crawling the Internet, they can barely stand it. For them it is like watching paint dry. They are far too polite (and perhaps sympathetic) to laugh in our presence. Most wait until we are out of view.
As feeble as it sounds — and until the U.S. mail becomes a thing of the past — I would like to make a last-ditch pitch for the preservation of the thoughtful, handwritten note. In the age of Twitter, texting, and Facebook, the new normal in communication is speed, impulsivity and brevity. I guess many of us — busier than ever, environmentally conscious, and watching every penny - have come to the conclusion that there are too many steps and drawbacks involved to keep this once common courtesy afloat, especially now that the speed and convenience of the Internet trumps all. While most people now type faster than they write and are online all the time, being at everyone’s beck and call 24/7, I suspect, undermines our desire and willingness to take the time to craft heartfelt communication. Yet, if we, and especially our children, let opportunities slip away, opportunities in which our words may resonate and show appreciation toward the deserving people in our lives, we are not, in the grand scheme of things, living up to our end of the bargain.
Trust me, for most teachers nothing beats a thoughtful, handwritten letter — and I suspect that is true for all of us no matter how we earn our living. If your child is graduating and has not yet thanked their teachers for writing a college recommendation, now is as good as time as any. Five thank-you cards and a half hour of time can do a world of good. No matter what grade your child is in, there are a slew of folks, not all of them obvious, who have worked hard on your family’s behalf. Please take the time to write a thank you note or two over vacation and have your child do the same. Besides, if you drop them off at the front desk, you won’t have to use a stamp.