The Open Letter Myth

I love these cycles of Open Letters going round and round – for awhile there is nothing and then we start seeing them all over the place – then they die down again.

I think at one point, perhaps when published in a newspaper there was an intent to advocate on behalf of a set of people, but the myth of what it accomplishes has decreased significantly.

The myth is – I write this letter, I put out these ideas no one else is thinking, I publicly attack this one person, everyone rallies to me and I become a popular hero for the ages.

Let’s deconstruct this…

You wrote the letter

Great, this is a huge step forward.  Now what are you going to do?  Do you really think whoever you are trying to get the attention of is going to read your Facebook post du jour?  Doubtful, and not because you are insignificant, but because this has been done before and the noise is so loud into today’s society that it’s getting harder and harder to discern the symphony from the cacophony.

I have Great Ideas

You sure do, now what are you going to do with them?  Oh you’re going to put them out there and wait for something to be done with them?  Oh, okay, well I guess that is one approach to solving a problem – throw out a bunch of suggestions and leave the room hoping everyone can figure it out for themselves and somehow meet your expectations?  It could work, but highly doubtful.

Public Attacks

Which would you rather prefer – someone addressing an issue with you in private OR someone blasting it in front of the entire company in an attempt to shame you?  No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, some bigger than others – more publicized, more tweeted and more dissected.  If someone came to you privately to discuss a matter would you be more willing to adjust your course based on that private conversation, perhaps it’s not even a one-on-one but a group discussion with people involved in the problem to find a way to make a change OR would you be more likely to change course after being publicly shamed for putting everything you had into thinking of a solution to this problem?

I become a Hero

There are lots of other ways to be a hero – going overseas and saving children – that’s being a hero.  Writing a letter addressed to one person, published to all isn’t being a hero.  Doing something in that letter (besides running), committing to how you can help, that’s all fine and dandy but you’re still not being a hero (unless see above).  Unless your letter is stating enemy secrets and where they will strike next (which probably are not the content for an Open Letter because you know… they can change their minds) you’re not really a hero.

But the most frustrating things of all these letters is if you were to look at the time, resources and effort that was expended in writing these letters – how better could that have been used to look at the problem at hand and try to find a solution.

It’s a myth that a revolution will start based on your Open Letter, but it is possible to start something with all that you’ve written in that letter, all you need to do is own it and run with it.

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