Tired of unwelcome email?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 27, 2021

Ten years ago May 25th, I ran a column that remains as timely today as ever. It dealt with the problem of unwanted email, but it applies just as much to shared items in all the social media. I’m revisiting that column this week, with gratitude to George Churchill for his wisdom.

WE OPEN A FORWARDED email and what do we see?

Yes, there are all those beautiful, interesting and informative items we love to receive. But too often there’s also the trash.

How do we ourselves avoid being guilty of forwarding trash and making our emails unwelcome in others’ Inboxes? One of our longtime Cochrane coffee companions has taken this responsibility very seriously.

George Churchill, a retired railroader, delights in staying in touch with friends through judiciously selected and edited forwards. I asked him about his guidelines.

“Really, it’s just a matter of applying the Golden Rule,” he says. It’s about respect – respect for the source, respect for the recipient, and respect for the truth.

About respect for the source, George is careful to honour privacy.

“Before I forward messages, I always remove the address of the individual who sent it to me, as well as all other email addresses that are imbedded in the message,” he says. (When forwarding to a list, he generally uses the blind copy field – “Bcc” – to hide the addresses of the recipients.)

Respect for the recipient covers everything from content to appearance – anything that might offend, distract or waste time. “Choosing what emails to forward has me evaluating the message for humour, creativity, personal skill, valuable information, or – my favourite – for the ability to make people forget everything that is weighing on them and just enjoy the moment,” he says. “Will they make the recipient feel good because others are feeling good?”

He refuses to forward tasteless and intimidating items, such as chain and “miracle” messages with their false hopes and preposterous pronouncements. (And no, you won’t be infested with fleas if you fail to forward this column to everyone in your address book!)

He also scrutinizes anything that seems too good to be true or in other ways raises his suspicions. “Before I’ll forward any of those, I investigate them using snopes.com, hoax-slayer.com, or other fact-checking websites,” he says. “I wish everyone would take the time to consider the validity of the message.”

Appearance and size of forwards are also important. “The smaller the email the better, so once I have a message to forward, the first thing I do is eliminate all the extraneous junk included with the message” – irrelevant marks and notices from previous forwards, unnecessary spaces, overly-large font sizes, etc.

“If the message includes a large video clip, I will first try to find the video on the Internet and forward the link rather than the video attachment itself.” (This is especially important out of respect for recipients with smaller mailboxes and slower download speeds.)

He’s also very choosy about those to whom he forwards an item. As much as possible, he tries to make sure his recipients would actually want to receive the email he’s forwarding. The former railroad executive doesn’t want to take a chance he’s wasting someone’s time.

“I believe that’s important, as I hope that, when people see a message arriving from me, they’re not groaning and rolling their eyes, but rather, looking forward to something of interest.”

Here, then, are George’s respect-based guidelines for forwarding an email: (1) Is it true and appropriate? (2) Does it respect privacy and busy schedules? And (3) will it stimulate thought and happiness?

It really is as simple as applying the Golden Rule: Forward unto others as you would have them forward unto you.


© 2021 Warren Harbeck

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