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An Open Letter To Anyone Thinking About Writing An Open Letter

By Cassie Paton

Dear Aspiring Letter Writer,

Congratulations! You have experienced something systemically unfair, been enraged by someone else’s whiny entitlement, or observed some smug act of hypocrisy. And now you want to write a letter to the offender in question. Luckily, it’s easier than ever to write a scathing takedown and publish it on the Internet for all to see, earning back slaps and head nods of solidarity along the way. You are about to be seriously vindicated by all the likes and shares your missive garners. Retribution is forthcoming.

But before you go dropping the mic, a word of caution: Open letters have their drawbacks. You see, when you publish a letter detailing all the ways in which a person or entity has failed, you in turn expose yourself — all your flaws, and all your transgressions — to intense scrutiny. You even risk becoming the subject of an open letter yourself.

Take 25-year-old Talia Jane’s letter to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, for example. Boy, did she open up a can of worms. It’s one thing to silently seethe over the fact that your CEO has a net worth of somewhere between $111 million and $222 million while you literally starve, but Jane should’ve realized that when she called Stoppelman out for his company’s low wages, the Internet wouldn’t care so much about that as they would the fact that Jane pays $1,245 in rent and doesn’t even have a roommate. That’s just bad economics.

Enter Stefanie Williams. A much-more-worldly almost-30, this woman penned her own open letter in response to Jane’s open letter — the main takeaway being that she, Williams, has worked really hard and that maybe Jane should stop complaining and do the same? Williams helpfully took the time to point out every way — real or perceived — in which Jane had neglected to be a responsible grown-up. If it reads as condescending, it’s only because Williams genuinely thought she had some useful wisdom to impart.

But things got really crazy when 36-year-old Sara Lynn Michener jumped in with yet another open letter, this one criticizing Williams for criticizing Jane and detailing Williams’ misguided assumptions and the many privileges afforded to her. (Turns out Williams had a GoFundMe once!) Cue the barrage of tweets suggesting a 40-something jump in with her own finger-wagging Medium post.

All this to say, Letter Writer, that when you take your gripes to the Internet, people get curious about all the ways in which you are wrong, have ever been wrong, or perhaps even directly contributed to the very problem you lament. They will scour your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for signs of hypocrisy or anything that would directly contradict your claims or incriminate you. Citizen journalists, am I right?

One thing that might help you avoid all of this and decide whether you should even write your letter is to consider your motivations for doing so. You might be doing it because:

A. you’re out for blood
B. you need to involve yourself in something that has nothing to do with you (guilty)
C. a real problem exists and those in power should be held accountable
D. picket signs are heavy and give you splinters
E. you really like writing letters

The correct answer? C. (Always guess C if you don’t know the answer!) If you guessed E, you’ll still get credit, but if you love writing letters, why not make it a personal, handwritten note? Everyone loves snail mail.

A Concerned Bandwagoner


Lead image: flickr/Julian Burgess