Sunday, August 8, 2010;
When I was working for the federal government in the early 1990s, a colleague and I were discussing whether to act on a problem with an office policy. I concluded that no action was necessary. Our office was testing a new e-mail system, so I composed a succinct note to let my colleague know what I thought. All I wrote was: "I guess that you can stop worrying now."
I assumed no salutation was needed, because we had just discussed the issue, and I did not close the message by referencing my name, although with our e-mail system, the only way a sender could be identified was by typing his or her name in the body of the e-mail. When I hit the send button, I immediately realized that I had not chosen an addressee. The e-mail defaulted to the top of the addressee list. It went to an acquaintance who had been promoted to head up a "problem" branch in our division. Over the previous year, he had encountered almost insurmountable difficulties in solving personnel and other problems.
And at the time that my misrouted e-mail was sent, he had just been removed from his position for nonperformance, and he was humiliated. However, word got around that he drew solace from the kind words that he had received anonymously from within the office. My initial fear that I would be found out and raked over bureaucratic coals for my e-mail mistake turned out to not only be completely unfounded but to have been an act of unintended kindness instead.
Herbert Childs, Stafford
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