Social media fuels the modern-day self-inflicted mortal wound
Nights in white satin, never seeming to end; Letters I’ve written, never meaning to send. – Justin Hayward, The Moody Blues 1967
Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, even John Kennedy, were all writers of letters that they never sent. Truman would write them, address them and then leave them on his desk overnight before he put a stamp on them (with stamps he paid for himself.) They wrote a letter in the heat of the moment, slept on it and reread it, then either sent it or put it away.
Veteran editorial-page editors recount calling letters-to-the-editor contributors to confirm authorship and asking, “Is that how (or what) you wanted to say?” Often, the reply was, “Can you take that part out?”
Letter-writing has gone out of style. My parents wrote letters to each other daily when Dad served in Europe in the 1940s. They often told how they would receive a letter, read it quickly and then put it away to read again and again until the next one arrived. The letter was something to be treasured. I thought that was awfully corny until I did the same with my intended when I went away to college.
Often, museums will display letters from pioneers about their struggles with their new surroundings. They are descriptive, emotive and often written works of art. The best ones are compositions, thoughtfully and patiently created.
Halitosis is not the only stench that can come out of our mouths. Our words, thoughtlessly uttered, can be foul as well. There is a school that teaches it is healthy to share every thought, although healthy for whom is rarely specified. My generation ran around telling people to “tell it like it is,” which translated to “tell it like you think it is.” This generation “tweets,” the literary equivalent of clearing your throat.
Professional sports figures and others in the public eye are learning that the urge to tell it like it is on social media, even the sophomoric ravings of a teenager, will come back to haunt them like some malevolent Dickensian ghost.
Consider the case of Brewers’ reliever Josh Hader, who was in the spotlight in the National League Division playoffs. Earlier this year, Hader answered for a series of offensive tweets from 2011 and 2012, after they surfaced.
“I was young, immature and stupid,” Hader said. “There’s no excuses for what was said.” Hader said he didn’t vividly remember sending the messages, which were racist, sexist and homophobic in nature. “It was something that happened when I was 17 years old, and as a child, I was immature and, obviously, I did some things that were inexcusable,” Hader said. “That doesn’t reflect on who I am as a person today.”
There’s a remedy for “young, immature and stupid.” Hader’s teammate, Lorenzo Cain, said it best: “He’s young, we all say some crazy stuff when we’re young,” said Cain. “That’s the reason I don’t have social media, things like this. You always get in trouble for things you say when you’re younger.”
There’s a Christian lesson in all of this for all of us. First of all, the only thing harder to erase than the cache at Google is the one kept by our heavenly Father. When passion, anger or mischief – one person’s comedy is another person’s grounds for a lawsuit — tempt us to tell it like it is, we should write a letter, put it away and read it later. And then remember the petition from the Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation…”