I have avoided writing a column about this for a while despite aching to do so. Part of it was because I did not want to seem like a crotchety curmudgeon, even more than I may appear at times. But I read a column by Richard Cohen from the Washington Post who came out and said he had enough. The problem became he did not go far enough in addressing the over-the-top informality of the current generation.
Cohen properly addressed the fact that we have become a country of false familiarity. You can be sitting in your office and you get a call from someone you have never met and they will start by saying “Hey, Bruce how are you? I am calling from Broadside Home Construction and we would like to do some work on your house.” My first question to a call like that is always – “Do I know you? No? Then why are you addressing me like your bar buddy?” It is particularly infuriating when you can tell from the voice it is someone young enough to be your child.
I don’t quite understand why this generation feels empowered to address their elders in such a disrespectful manner. I have asked around and come up with some theories. One would be the fact that they feel entitled by all those soccer trophies they earned by just showing up. Or they learned from my peers to call their parents or teachers by their first name. Some speculation rests with the fact that there are no longer any common social standards being established.
If one needed guidance on social grace when we were growing up there was Emily Post. She ruled the world of etiquette from the 1930’s until her death in 1960, but the effects of her efforts lived long after that. When people had difficult social situations they wrote to Dear Abby. The column started in 1956 and still exists today (being penned by the author’s daughter); but since this generation does not know what a newspaper is they would not have a clue about social grace. They feel as long as they are not hurting someone they are “a good person.”
Here is a perfect example. Ever get an email from this current generation? When letters were written there was an established norm. You addressed the letter Dear Mr. or Mrs. (Jones). The derivation of where the custom of starting a letter with Dear is unknown to us, but it worked well for centuries. The only change was the advent of the term Ms. that helped to ease whether a woman was married or not.
So along comes an email and someone starts using a term derived from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – “Hey.” What is Hey? Because some doofus used it in an email, someone else started to use it and now you see it as the norm among the current generation. I think we should use the term “Yo.” I think that Rocky I gave us that term. Why not “Yo Bruce, here is that financial information you need.”
For those of the elder generation who may want to delve into this form of communication be aware do not use the word “man.” That is so passé. The in vogue term is “dude”. Or if you want to use the term that seems universal use “guy.” That is the new cool term. In fact, the younger set will address a group of octogenarian women as “Hi Guys.”
Since no one has established guidelines for emails except for the silly one where if you type in capital letters people know you are yelling, here are some to live by:
1. If you addressing someone other than your drinking buddy, don’t use Hey, Hi, or Yo; particularly if the person is your senior.
2. If you receive an email that is addressed specifically to you, hit the reply button and say something simple like – Got it, thank you. Cyberspace is not perfect and it is important to make sure they know you received their message or document. It takes very little time. Ditto for any faxes you may receive – send an email and acknowledge receipt. It is just common courtesy.
3. If someone sends out a group email that has a flaw in it, don’t hit the “reply all” button and humiliate the sender. If you have a problem with the email, address it one on one.
4. If you are using your email for business communication, treat it as a business tool and provide the proper respect for your customer or vendor.
When I was 22 years old I thought I knew everything. As I grew older I found out I did not. Only good might come from showing respect to an elder or a potential customer by addressing them as Sir or Madam. Let them choose whether you may drop the formality.
That is, after you have earned it – which is something of which this generation needs to do more. Maybe it will help you to get a job and get out of your childhood bedrooms.