I grew up in an era when people wrote letters to friends and to business associates. The favor of a reply was expected. It was just plain polite to respond in kind. Historians thrive on letters of yesteryear. They form the basis for literature and books that open windows for us to view the stories of the past. But several decades ago, the world entered into the age of communication with technology advancements that brought us cell phones and computers attached to a vast network of instant communication . . . and genuine communication failed.
Emails and texts took the place of letter-writing, and the good manners of a polite response evaporated. Acknowledging the receipt of email correspondence disappeared. A simple electronic “thanks,” “got it,” or, heaven forbid, a thoughtful answer to a query all went by the wayside, and many emails are now simply ignored. This silence sends a message of dismissal to the email writer, a message that the ideas and concerns expressed are not important—are irrelevant .
But part of the human condition is the need to feel relevant.
Elected leaders receive multiple electronic messages a day and are challenged to respond. Responding is, however, essential to those engaged in public service. It is the measure of good manners; it is the message that a constituent matters—and that, after all, is what public service and representative government is all about.
So we struggle with communication in this era of rapid communication, which is short on communications of substance. The good manners of a bygone time could be our guide. Acknowledging receipt of queries with a word or two and then, in fact, a short response of substance is essential to quality public service.
Silence, the message of dismissal, erodes confidence in government. It is not the best course of action for elected leaders.
Former Annapolis mayor Ellen Moyer (2001-09) has also worked as a community activist and alderwoman. She now heads the Art in Public Places Commission.
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