Letter Writing and The Ethic of Reciprocity

The straw that broke the camel’s back just happened to coincide with the beginning of National Card and Letter Writing Month.

How many times have I seen this lead sentence in a newspaper, magazine or blog:  “I can’t remember the last time I got a handwritten letter?”  How many times do these journalists use the above lament to decry The Lost Art of Letter Writing or to pronounce the Demise of the Handwritten Note as if they were Medical Examiners for the written word.

I had to read that sentence once again today.

And every time I read that sentence, I shake my head because they’ve got it backwards, and if they got it right, there would be no story to follow.

Here’s the proper lead sentence:

“I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter!”


I can’t imagine why an empty mailbox surprises them. I remember vividly when I was a little kid, I would love to go to the box by the road and bring in the mail. After all, there might be a new Sears catalog in there!

I asked my Mom one day, “How come I never get any mail?”

Mom’s answer was simple and to the point: “Because you never write.”

So I did. I started scratching out notes in my horrible handwriting that Mom still shakes her head at. Now, I would go to the mailbox twice a day. The first to put the letter in the box and raise the flag, and later I would go to get today’s mail.

And lo and behold, the letters started to arrive!

Even as a little kid, I learned pretty quickly about cause and effect and what I would come to know as “The Ethic of Reciprocity.” If I write letters, I will receive letters.

Here’s another version of The Ethic of Reciprocity:  “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”

Has a familiar “golden” ring to it, yes?

So, if you find yourself beginning to say “I can’t remember the last time I….” think about it a second. Then sit down with some paper, a pen and a stamp and see what happens.

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