Being Assaulted By Angry E-mail

Katie Young
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Wednesday - March 12, 2008

“On e-mail, people aren’t quite themselves. They are angrier, less sympathetic, less aware, more easily wounded ... E-mail has a tendency to encourage the lesser angels of our nature.” - Shipley & Schwalbe, Send: The Essential Guide to E-mail for Office and Home

For the most part, I thoroughly enjoy my job as a columnist. I love being able to make someone laugh or cry, or understand something on another level through the advice given by local experts. I always hope that readers know how much of myself I try to put into each week’s column.

In the six years I’ve been writing “The Young View” for MidWeek, hundreds of readers have e-mailed to let me know when they have been touched by something I’ve written, when they disagree with my sentiments or when they have a topic idea for a future column.

This is the best part of my job - usually. Most readers are generous with praise, thoughtful in their responses and kind, even when their opinions conflict with mine.

However, I’ve also had my share of really angry e-mails come my way. The tone of these e-mails is nothing short of pure hate. Vicious remarks are spewed out like venom, personally attacking my mind, my heart and my writing capabilities.

I partially blame e-mail itself for creating a medium where responsibility and brutal verbal attacks do not go hand-in-hand.

E-mail makes it easy to share your anger with anonymity. There is a lot of room here for abuse and misuse. Get angry, write a nasty note, press send, and there your words go, floating off into cyberspace. Most likely, you don’t have to deal with the consequences of those words, especially if the intended recipient is a stranger.

But what about the person on the receiving end? The person who was happily going about his or her day, totally oblivious to the envelope of hate that sits waiting in their “inbox.”

People send too many spur-ofthe-moment e-mails that express too much emotion. Most of us would not be so brave when face to face with a total stranger to proclaim the same angry thoughts we can easily share over e-mail. The e-mail has little consequence. It takes far less bravery and, truth be told, far less genuine thought. I think that e-mail removes the filter of restraint we should keep firmly in place at all times.

I would never send a hateful message to someone I’d never met just because the ideas they expressed were different from mine. I firmly believe in the right to express differing opinions and I have no qualms when someone writes me to say they disagree with my point of view. But personal attacks are unnecessary and childish.

I wondered if I was alone in these kinds of messages I received so I asked a friend of mine who is also a local columnist and discovered she too has experienced her share of nasty notes.

The funny thing is, calling someone you don’t know every name under the sun does nothing for your argument. In fact, it discounts it completely. While writers appreciate constructive feedback, no one, and I mean no one, enjoys unsolicited personal attacks. And truly, as the saying goes, you don’t really know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

So before you pen a nasty note, stop and think about it. Write it if you must, but don’t send it immediately. Go back to it later and examine your words carefully. Would you say those same things to this person face to face? And what if you were in their place? How would you feel if someone said those things to you?

Aren’t we all just trying to do the best we can? I know I am. I’m not perfect. I don’t claim to know it all. All I really hope for is to learn through experience and to touch a few lives along the way.

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