I'm joining the Red Room Community in blogging this week about bad manners.
Lately, I've been struck by a growing category of bad manners.
I think of it as a particular kind of "sin of omission." It's the failure to get back to someone--whether it's in response to a social invitation, a job application, a literary query, or a request from a potential client. Sometimes there's an attempt to make it okay by offering a blanket disclaimer: "If I don't get back to you in (2 days, 2 months, 2 years) it means I am (not accepting new clients, not coming to your potluck, not hiring you, not interested in your book.)"
I'm not sure why or when this kind of non-response became socially acceptable. Perhaps it's a reaction to the sheer volume of requests from job applicants, aspiring authors, patients. I suspect e-mail plays a role. Paradoxically, the ease of response seems to bring with it a corresponding ease of non-response. Also, I suspect that receiving what is (or may be) a group message tends to dilute the sense of personal responsibility to respond. Really, how personal is an Evite invitation?
Strangely, I haven't seen so much of this in the literary world. Despite the horror stories, my experience with querying agents and editors was mostly positive. I was rarely ignored, and I received some lovely, even helpful, rejections on the way to the publication of my first book this past January.
I see it a lot with employers. I have watched, from the sidelines, when family, friends, and clients have gone through the painful process of looking for work. Is it the economy that makes it acceptable to not respond with a quick e-mail saying "got your application--thanks"? To interview someone (even someone you know) and leave them hanging? Perhaps job applicants are supposed to assume no news is bad news. But it breeds a growing sense of hopelessness and malaise.
I find it especially troubling when this consistent non-response happens in my work life. It has become very common, apparently, for potential psychotherapy clients to call therapists for a first-time appointment and never get a response.
In my line of work, it is so easy to get overwhelmed with all the "non-therapy" tasks we have to do: record keeping, billing, dealing with insurance companies, phone calls. I do understand the temptation to avoid making a call, when I know my answer is going to be: "Sorry, no. I don't (work with children/do hypnosis/have weekend appointments). But good luck."
But I try very hard to return those calls. Mostly, I do. And whenever I'm tempted to skip a reply, I just think about the sadly touching conversations I have had with potential clients who actually thank me for calling back to say no. "I've left ten messages, and you're the only person who got back to me." I've heard that any number of times.
How sad, for all of us, when we succumb to taking the easy way out.
Causes Blair Kilpatrick Supports
Louisiana Folk Roots, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Habitat for Humanity/Musician's Village New Orleans, Doctors Without Borders