Darn. I did it again.
I called someone a "pompous ass" in an email message.
Worse, my slur was in response to his slur.
He got upset at a linguistic error, and patronized us in the process. That struck me as uncivil.
So I fired off my "pompous ass" reply, hit the "send" button - and then groaned.
A hundred times - no, a million times - I have tried to train myself to use the "save as a draft message" button, not the "send" button, when I am writing an email message that includes some emotional content as well as rational information.
It does not promote civil discourse when I respond to uncivil discourse with more uncivil discourse.
Let's face it; it does feel good to put someone in his/her place. It feels really good.
But my job description doesn't include a "put that person in his/her place" requirement.
Understand, I have no problem with being uncivil - when the need arises. I am defiantly politically incorrect at times, even obscene or profane. I am not proud of that, but neither am I ashamed of it. That's just part of who I am - when the need arises.
But the need does not arise nearly as often as my temper tends to flare.
A year or so ago, I attended some anger management sessions, and even read a book on the topic.
That's when I started to try to use the "save as draft" email button instead of the "send" button, and review the message an hour or even an entire day later, to re-evaluate whether the tone was appropriate to the situation.
Most of the time, by now, I succeed.
That doesn't mean that all of my email messages are humble and courteous. There is a place for firmness, even for blunt disagreement.
But trading insults never yet won an argument. So that behavior ought to be reserved for situations when persuasion has clearly become impossible, when civility is being ridden over roughshod, and when there is clear intent to end, not only a conversation, but also a relationship.
Divorce? Perhaps. Self-defense against a crime of violence? Sure.
But in an email message? C'mon.
The problem is within me, true. But it is worsened by today's instant communications: Texting, cell phones, email, etc.
That would not have happened during the era of fountain pens.
Don't understand "fountain pens"? Google and Wikipedia can be enlightening. Fountain pens are one step removed from goose-quill pens, and liquid ink flowed in fine or medium strokes - or smeared in ugly blue or black blobs - on paper. A few remain in use today, just as a few buggy whips remain in use, as anachronisms. But with fountain pens, speed and emotion resulted in unreadable messes.
Back in 1959, I had to submit a hand-written essay for a possible college scholarship. Instead of "save as draft," I actually wrote a first draft, in pencil, double-spacing it so that I could cross out, insert, and rearrange.
Then I filled the fountain pen from the bottle of ink we kept in a cut-out hole on the desk at home, by dipping the pen tip into the bottle, then pushing out a metal clip that squeezed an internal bladder nearly flat, then releasing the clip so ink replaced the bubbled-out air. I touched the pen tip a few times on the desk blotter. Don't understand "desk blotter"? That was a green rectangle, sort of like today's desk calendars, but it was made from absorbent thick paper, sort of a card stock. It would soak up ink. A preliminary dip absorbed excess ink so that when I started to write, the pen made letters, not blobs.
One had to keep one's hand and fingers off the wet ink, or it would smear. That was hard enough for right-handers, but frustratingly near impossible for left-handers. We also kept hand-held blotters, half-round gizmos with handles like those used on rubber stamps, that would accept strips of blotter paper. One could write a few lines, then carefully roll the blotter over the lines, keeping the ink dry enough to mostly resist further blotches.
There was no "undo" key back then. There was "white-out," which could be spread on writing paper as well as on typing paper, to cover up mistakes. But that would be unacceptable in a scholarship application letter.
So I had to rewrite it, I don't now remember how many times. I do remember drawing a sharp rebuke from my mother when I made a mistake in the next-to-last line and let loose with an Italian phrase I had learned from an older cousin. In school, I could get away with muttering that phrase. Mom, unhappily for me, was a child of Italian immigrants. Do a Google search for "box your ears" to find out what happened next.
Eventually, the letter was completed, but only after an enormous amount of thought, patience, planning and careful consideration, not only as to what was said, but also as to how it looked and what tone it took, were all employed.
Back then, the messed-up drafts ended up in the wastebasket.
No wonder I get myself into so much trouble.
I react at Internet speeds, but I was raised to respond in fountain-pen timelines.
Denny Bonavita is the editor and publisher of McLean Publishing Co. in west-central Pennsylvania, including the Courier-Express in DuBois.