EVERY TIME YOU LOOK AT YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS, you are likely to experience irate tweets and rage-venting headlines. Especially the impulsive anger of Twitter mobs is a familiar phenomenon.
If you shoot an angry tweet and it gets liked, retweeted, and goes viral, it further stokes your anger and rage, which can offer you some thrill and cheer. The 280-character site has become a tool of choice for angry outbursts, hate speech, trolls, and propaganda.
Indeed, a disturbing phenomenon. Though the ‘delete post’ option exists, the post might remain in the physical database and in the memory database of the people.
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The President’s Strategy.
The question is can we learn something from Lincoln that can serve as a model on how to deal with e-mails and social media outrage.
Isn’t it amazing that a person who died in 1865, provides us with a strategy to deal with technologies that reign in the 21st Century?
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Let’s See how?
For this, we need to hear what Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian, and the author have to say. She is known for her books on some of the most famous U.S. presidents.
In an interview, she talks about Lincoln teaching us how to handle some sort of Twitter. “When he was upset with somebody, he would write what he called a ‘hot letter,’ recalls Goodwin, “where he would write it all down. He would put it aside until his emotions cooled down and then write ‘never sent, never signed.'”
In her best-seller Lincoln biography, “Team of Rivals,” she offers an excellent example of how Lincoln would handle his outbursts.
I’ll not cover the whole story as it has been chronicled in detail in my earlier blog, “Always Respond, Never React.” So, for better understanding, please check the blog first and then come back here.
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The Whole Story.
It was July of 1863, 2 years into the civil war that threatened the break-up of America. In the battle of Gettysburg, for the first time, Union Army under General George Meade was very close to capturing the confederate army commander, General Lee. But General Meade fails to exploit the opportunity and allows General Lee and his army to escape.
When Lincoln learned about the incident, he became furious and angry. In that outrage mindset, he writes a harsh and strong-worded letter to send it to Gen Meade. But Gen Meade never received the letter, because Abraham Lincoln never sent it and it was recovered after his assassination.
The envelope read, “Never signed, Never delivered.” This was not the only letter, but historians unearthed countless letters with the same notation.
In her new book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times,” Doris Goodwin recounts another story.
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The Hot Letter Process.
One day Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war, came to Lincoln furious with one of his generals. He complained to the last word and Lincoln listened very patiently.
He advised Stanton to vent the whole steam on paper and write a letter to the general. It took Stanton two full days to write. Once done writing, he brought it to Lincoln who said, “Now that you feel better, throw it in the basket. That is all that is necessary.”
Let me tell you that Stanton almost hated Lincoln at the beginning of their relationship and even didn’t like his above advice, but later on in life, Stanton was one of Lincoln’s best and most loyal friends and advisors.
Whenever Lincoln felt his blood boiling, he would compose a “hot letter,” filling the letter with his angry thoughts, place it on one side and then wait for a few hours or even a day. Then he would review what he had written and then decide whether to send the letter to the recipient. It is a great diversion trick.
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Some More Examples:
The 33rd president of America, Harry S. Truman was once so miffed off with the Treasurer of U.S. that he wrote a strong letter, “I don’t think that the financial advisor of God Himself would be able to understand what the financial position of the Government of the United States is, by reading your statement.” But thankfully the Treasurer never received the letter, the reason being the same- the president did not send it.
Winston Churchill once wrote to Prime Minister David Lloyd George 1n 1922, that, “We are paying eight million a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having.” Luckily Churchill never send it and it too became a part of the ‘hot letter warriors’.
The famous writer, Mark Twain too was a fan of writing ‘hot letters’ and not sending them. He would often say that writing them gave him “unallowable frankness and freedom.”
On one occasion, Mark Twain became angry with the Russian people and wrote a letter to the entire nation when they were too tolerant of their czar saying, “Apparently none of you can bear to think of losing the present hell entirely, you merely want the temperature cooled down a little.” This letter met the same fate- ‘Never sent.’
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Benefits of Hot Letter.
This art of writing ‘hot letters’ and not sending them serves two purposes.
First, it acts as an emotional catharsis, an excellent way to let out all the steam without engaging face-to-face. Some great minds such as Lincoln, Twain, Truman, and Churchill often had no intention of ever sending these letters. They very well knew the therapeutic effect of writing letters as a tool for immediate relief.
And secondly, it also acts as a strategic catharsis, an exercise in expressing your thoughts.
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Remember the chances that the recipient then would have ever read the letters written by the above great leaders and great minds, but today’s tweet can reach millions shortly after the sender pushes “send.”
The next time something triggers you off— hold on, stop, take a pause, reflect before you write an email or a tweet.
Ask yourself- what would Lincoln do in this situation. Take a deep breath, then judge whether the thing or event that got you pissed off is more drastic or horrible than a missed opportunity to end the civil war and ensure unity of the country.
If you feel it is worse than that, then please email or twitter away. But if it isn’t that bad, which will be the case most of the time, then try to gather Lincoln’s self-control and self-restraint.
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How to Write Hot Letter.
Take a paper and pen down your thoughts uncensored. Vomit it all out. Don’t worry about the character length of the message, just steam it out on paper. And once you cool down think about what needs to be done with the letter- send and post it or shred and burn it.
Writing a letter to release pent-up emotions is an excellent tool, but make sure you never send it and even store it.
Keeping it means ‘holding’ on to it. Instead burn it, trash it, throw the ashes into the sea or into the wind and visualize your troubled and burdensome emotions going away.
The Final Word.
Believe me, it’s quite liberating and the relief will be instant. It works like a charm. It is like instant brain dumping and that is too uncensored. Let your emotions and feeling run wild on the page. So, the effect is- emotional catharsis.
Also, the written letter offers time to read and re-read, reflect and review after the cooling down. Getting back to our senses doesn’t happen in seconds, it takes some time. The letter gives us the time.
Make writing ‘hot letters’ your ‘anger unloading’ tool of choice.
Do let me know your views on the topic by commenting in the box below.