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Humans are the only animals on the planet that use written communication. I will return to this statement in a moment.
I love to write. Writing is absolute freedom. When you write, you can say anything you want – even if no one is listening. Writing allows us to freely express our thoughts. More importantly however, writing allows us to collect our thoughts. In fact, when we write a response to a challenge, that response is typically more thoughtful and productive than our initial reactive thoughts or verbal response.
In recent years we have seen a rapid ebb in the use of written interpersonal communication. The carefully crafted letter has given way to a more hastily produced email. A considerate note has been replaced by a more succinct text. More alarming is our willingness to “tweet” or “scream out” caustic and hurtful expletives in response to something that is only mildly irritating, exacerbating a situation that could have been calmed by a more thoughtful reply.
As a student of Civil War history, I am always fascinated by the vast treasure of letters that demonstrate both the individual and collective views of that turning point in our nation’s history. Soldiers with only a few years of formal education wrote hauntingly beautiful accounts of their personal stories to friends and family; not merely to inform. The act of writing allowed soldiers to “escape”, if only for a brief moment, the horrors of the conflict in which they were thrust. Fast forward one hundred fifty years and the therapeutic benefit of sharing your innermost feelings in a personal written message to a friend or relation is all but lost in the new landscape of rapid fire short hand communication.
I am not bemoaning current technology with a nostalgic view of the good old days. I believe that technological advances in all areas of communication are wonderful, and allow us to be more efficient and timely in our communication. However, this efficiency should not come at the cost of powerful intellectual discourse. When we reduce our most important conversations to discrete sound bites or poorly constructed ranting, we undermine the very thing that motivated us to write in the first place – Intelligence.
Which brings me back to my initial statement. There are a number of animals that possess a relatively high level of intelligence – and some of those even have opposing digits (a thumb and fingers). Clearly they have the biological capacity to write. Yet humans alone have chosen to advance this very powerful skill; enabling us to communicate our intelligence efficiently and to record our history for the sake of the future. However, the most important reason to write is to express our specific gift of intelligence; our individuality. Writing allows us to dream. Writing encourages us to reach into our own soul as we seek the answers to our most complex challenges. So, grab a pen and a sheet of paper and write a nice long letter to someone you love or maybe someone you just met. Whether you send it or not, you could be surprised at how good the powerful gift of writing makes you feel.