“Return to Sender,” a 1962 hit song for Elvis Presley, might as well be my theme song these days. Not only am I sitting around, sheltering in place waiting for that miracle COVID-19 vaccine, I’m also waiting for returns/replies to messages I sent out, some as long as several weeks ago.
Don’t you hate when people lack the courtesy to reply to messages?
I mean, really, people, reply to sender, PLEASE!
In my long-ago youth, I had some professional power. First, I was a journalist. People usually wanted their name in print or their face on-air. Even people who didn’t want to be quoted rushed to provide “off-the-record” information.
Next, I worked in government — in the executive branch — and had “political” power. People were eager to schmooze. They returned messages in a flash.
Then, I worked for a large financial institution. I had “money.” People not only called me back, they asked me to golf at their country clubs!
After that, my power ended.
I worked for non-profit organizations and landed on the asking side of the equation, seeking money or supplies for vulnerable populations, including refugees, immigrants, and people suffering from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. It got tough to get return phone calls.
Yet, for my part, even in my busiest years, I always returned messages promptly. It was common courtesy.
Maybe it’s because of my Jewish upbringing with its emphasis on derech eretz (literally the way of the land) and stress on good manners and honorable behavior.
Growing up, my parents repeatedly exhorted me to “be polite,” respect my elders, send thank you notes, and the belief that “you catch more with honey than vinegar.”
Now, the underlying ideal of derech eretz resonates deeply. Won’t society be so much better if we all practiced respectful behavior toward one another each day?
Yet, today, when reaching out and touching someone is easier than ever, people are ruder than ever. Contact is 24/7 and overwhelming. Yet, also more unsatisfying than ever.
Bosses, co-workers, companies, and spammers reach us at all hours and we, despite our best intentions to go on a digital diet, compulsively read what they send.
Similarly, unnecessary “reply to all” messages and group texts flood our inboxes and “smart” phones.
Still, maddeningly, sometimes individuals we need are unreachable. Case in point: a certain somewhat prominent man I know.
On more than one galling occasion through the years, I’ve had cause to contact him. I have NEVER gotten a reply. It’s been a problem, causing me to devise complicated and tedious workarounds to get the information I’ve needed. It’s been frustrating and insulting.
What makes this even more frustrating is that we belong to a professional association that prides itself on saying members will always return messages from one another.
In my youth, I would have worried that it was me. “He” doesn’t like me. I’ve done something wrong. “He” thinks I’m stupid and not worth his time. Or maybe I’ve done something to offend him. Baloney. I can assure you I’ve done nothing to offend. Youthful insecurities behind me, I now understand the man is simply rude.
Just this month I, unfortunately, needed to contact said lout for a story I’m working on. There is no workaround. Only he can provide the information I need. What to do? I waited for two weeks. I followed up with the second “Hey, jerk, did you get my message” message — more politely worded, of course. No reply.
Now I’m officially in a bind. I could ask a third-party associate to intervene, but I’m tempted to try a different approach: “It’s Day 27. How ‘ya doing? I’m still waiting.” “Day 28. Still waiting.” And so on.
I know. I know. He’s got a spam folder. My mail is going there.
But still, like Scarlett O’Hara, I believe “There’s always tomorrow.” I remain semi-hopeful Mr. Lout will reply and I’ll be able to finish my story. Maybe even meet my deadline.
And as I sit and stew and plot petty revenge schemes I’ll never execute, I continue practicing derech eretz as frustrating hard as it is to do.
Meanwhile, I cannot stop singing that damn Elvis Presley song, “Return to Sender.”