COLUMN: Some sentiments don’t need to be expressed

Letter to the editor’s vile contents not worth repeating

After 20-plus years in this business, it takes a fair bit to shock me.

Not to surprise or amaze me, but to honestly stun me (however briefly) into silence.

I’m not saying it never happens, but “somewhat jaded” is probably a fair description of my day-to-day state of mind. Except that a couple Thursdays ago, someone managed it. They absolutely floored me, I’m assuming without even trying.

I wish I could say it was because they wowed me with a stunning insight or their razor-sharp wit. Sadly, that was not the case.

Like most newspapers, the vast majority of our letters to the editor are now submitted electronically. Email is quick and convenient, meaning it’s easy to fire one off in a fit of pique without really stopping to consider whether what is contained in it needs to be said, or if there’s perhaps a better way to say it.

Often, I’ve received a letter only to have a revised one arrive in my inbox a few minutes or even a day or two later.

Sometimes I get a request from the writer, who’s now had time to reconsider what they’ve sent, to pull the letter completely.

Still, not every reader has an email account and every so often a letter will arrive in the mail, with our address handwritten across the front and a canceled stamp in the top corner.

It’s clear that someone has made a concerted effort to get their thoughts and opinions down on paper and, from there, paid money to get it onto my desk.

That means they’ve had time to really think about their words before they send them. Whether they’ve used that time to its full advantage is, of course, another question.

I’m always keen to see what I will find once I’ve torn open an envelope, because something I’ve learned in those 20-plus years is that when it comes to letters that arrive by mail, it really can go either way.

Even before the paper is unfolded, there are usually signs that it will fly off the rails.

And so it was in this case, where the all-caps type and a newspaper clipping attached by so many staples that it took several slightly punctured fingertips to get it open, combined to offer me my first clue. Seeing that every third word was misspelled further deepened my suspicion that this one was headed directly for the recycling box. Then I realized it would be a mistake to let this person off the hook quite so easily.

The attached clipping was a story that had run in our paper earlier in the month, announcing that Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi was scheduled to speak in Surrey. You can probably guess where it went from there.

If you said “downhill,” congratulations. You’ve won the prize of not being a reprehensible racist.

I’m not going to reprint any of the words or phrases used in the letter – they are vile and it would serve no purpose to send them out into the world.

It’s not like I could name and shame the writer, even if I felt so inclined, since the letter, filled with vitriol, and rife with spelling errors was – unsurprisingly – submitted – you guessed it – unsigned and with no return address.

Once the initial shock wore off, what I was left with was simply sadness. I don’t know anything about this person or their life. I think it’s safe to assume it’s an unhappy one. And for that, I’m sorry.

To you, sir or madam, since I know you read our paper, my first instinct would be to invite you to be a better human being. But I recognize that’s an oversimplification of what is clearly a deep-seated issue.

Just as the level of intolerance you’ve displayed in your letter must have developed over time, change doesn’t come overnight. What influences, incidents or circumstances may have shaped your way of thinking, I cannot say.

But I would encourage you to step outside your narrow world and have a conversation with someone who looks or believes differently than you do.

It might help change your perspective.

Or not.

In that case, the next best thing would probably be to just keep your thoughts to yourself from here on out.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News


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