The Written Word…..

Computers have made us lazy. Books are available electronically, greeting cards are now emailed and letters have gone the way of the dodo. Documents are, more often than not, filed electronically and electronic signatures are legally recognized. Newspapers are now loaded with propaganda, available online, and losing subscribers in great numbers as we live in a 24 hour news cycle and prefer to have a talking head tell us what we think. The ability to spell words that involve more than a single syllable is no longer necessary, as spell check will handle that task for us. The emotion and warmth that surrounds a hand written note or thought is lost in the coolness of a few keystrokes by hordes of people who transmit their thoughts electronically with nary a care about the impact of these kinds of communications. This realization has prompted today’s writing.

What and how we write is an important part of our personal brand. As a young officer, I made sure that everything in writing that hit our regional headquarters reflected a maximum effort. The record that we kept of gasoline and vehicle expenses was in ledger form and at the end of each month, I carefully reprinted this form for the convenience of the motor equipment officer in headquarters. The motor Sergeant in turn, was required to transcribe my records into a system that managed these expenses, and I was careful to end each gasoline purchase with a .5 or .0, which saved him time in transferring the data. The Patrol required block printing on official documents, and most officers were meticulous in their preparation of reports. Supervisors did not make changes in reports, but would return them to you when you failed to adequately explain a happening or circumstance. Good police officers are good story tellers. Accurate and lucid descriptions put people in jail, keep people out of jail, clarify undignified situations and portray history in factual terms.

Say it in writing…….

Hand written notes are superior to any form letter or card. This statement is worth repeating in another way. There is no substitute for a hand written condolence, note of appreciation or recommendation. As I progressed into police administration, I was in the habit of regularly isolating a particularly well written investigation report or accident report produced by one of my officers. I would then express my appreciation for an excellent effort, hand written, on the margins of a copy of this report, and mail it to the officer’s home. Some thirty years later, I run into an occasional officer who reminds me of how much this meant to him at the time. Proof positive the efforts of the officer were indeed reviewed and evaluated. I enjoy writing and have deep respect for those that can carefully and lucidly explain a complicated circumstance or procedure relying on the King’s English. There is not one among us who has not opened a set of instructions for a home bound project, written in broken English, which failed entirely in providing useful instruction in regard to assembly.

I’ll end by saying that I am now taking the time to write letters to folks who have made or are making a difference in my life. I will continue my habit of writing various medical professionals, sales people and service folks who exemplify hard work and effort on our behalf. Fifty eight cents is a small price to pay for the privilege of creating a personally written note to a friend or other person of importance to codify my thoughts as to why they are important. I will trade this privilege for the habit of writing politicians to express an opinion, only to have it answered by a form letter months later. In the end, one of your friends will be tasked to carry you on that short walk from the velvet lined casket hauler to your last owned piece of real estate. They will come closer to appreciating your thoughts than will the pol who is only concerned with the loss of a potential vote. My father had the benefit of knowing about when death was going to call. While he could administer a scorching verbal correction to those in need, he chose to write a personal note to each of his pallbearers, thanking them in advance for their services yet to be delivered.

Col. SR (Steve) Johnson, Sr.

Writing a legible and coherent note or letter still carries the impact that electronically generated thoughts never will. As the lawyers say, if you don’t have it in writing, you don’t have it, period. It is never too late to start writing!

Have a good weekend!


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