Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Power of a Letter ... or, How Kindness Really Does Go a Long Way

Well, what do you know ... our parents were right. A simple kindness really does go a long way. As in halfway 'round the world, to North Korea.

Proof positive of that truism in action came this week with former President Bill Clinton facilitating the release of hostages Euna Lee and Laura Ling, journalists being held in North Korea and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.

There's one aspect of this story that keeps amazing me, and that is the story of the letter.

According to the New York Times, Clinton sent Mr. Kim a letter of condolence on the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, back in the heyday of the '90s when the Clintons occupied the White House. Sure, the condolence letter was probably an obligatory Presidential duty, but according to reports, Mr. Kim never forgot Clinton's gesture. As such, Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee gained their freedom and were released.

Now, I'm no political analyst (I only play one on the Internet) and there were undoubtedly other issues going on (the least of which was probably Clinton's glee at chaperoning two 30-something gals). But this notion of writing a letter ... it kind of makes you think, doesn't it?

When was the last time you got a letter in the mail? I'm talking about an honest-to-God letter with a stamp and an address where the only . might have been in the abbreviation for your state?

I'm guessing it has been awhile. If you're like me, you lead your life online with emails - and even those are becoming passe. (If you're not my Facebook friend or a reader of this here blog, you may have been thinking that I died years ago.) The last condolence note I sent was in the form of signing a guest book on

The death of the letter is a sad thing, but more importantly is the death of the simple kindness. We live in such a venomous society, one filled with hatriolic vitriol. Every day people lose their lives over things like spilled beer. All one needs to do is read the comments on news stories, and inevitably the discourse becomes a hateful disregard for people's feelings and a callousness toward suffering. It's never-ending.

We need more letters.

We need more kindness on autopilot, more of the mindset that remembers to send a card, to write a quick note to tell someone that we hope they are feeling better soon, that we're sorry about the loss of their pet, that we give a damn about what's going on in their lives.

We can do this via Facebook, and we do, and that's better than nothing. But let's just imagine if Facebook or Twitter was around in the Clinton era, and if Mr. Kim was a Friend or Follower of Bill's.

I wonder if a comment of sympathy - "sorry 2 hear abt ur dad :(" - would have held as much power as a letter.

Would it have been remembered for 15 years? What would have been the outcome for Euna Lee and Laura Ling, a decade and a half later?

Who needs to receive our letters?


Lori said...

As you can see, I'm a little behind on my blog reading but I loved this post!

I think you're right! I always buy these cute little "cards" in the stores with intentions of using them to write to some friends or just give a handwritten thank you when I get something or a little Hi when I send something.

I save all the cards and letters I get too. I haven't really added to my pile lately. That's kind of sad when you think about it. I won't be able to sit in my rocking chair with a shoebox reading over old emails.

Karen said...

I am REALLY late responding to this post. I was searching for more info on the Clinton condolence letter and found you. I WAS a well-intentioned card and letter writer who didn't get most of them in the post, but now have a system that makes it so effortless I send memorable cards daily. Thanks for your post!

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Lori - I know what you mean ... it's kind of sad, in a way.

Karen - better late than never! :) Welcome ... glad you found the post.