E-Mail Anxiety and the Plight of Nominal Notoriety

A letter from the horse trainer

A few days ago I returned from a long and tiring (but rewarding) road trip, doing horse fair presentations and gaited horse clinics in the Pacific North West. I settled in at home, looking forward to a few days of R&R, only to be confronted with a huge stack of emails, including a bunch I had already read and answered.

But, much to my consternation, they had not ended up in the Finished File (the circular file). Oh no, here they were again, sitting on my desk, coming back to haunt me.  These recycled emails all contained more or less the same format.

They started off with some form of initial complimentary comments, like: “I’ve seen all the top clinicians perform, and I think you are the greatest!” or “I just read your latest book. I thought it was great”!  That initial part of the email we call “the stroke”.  That’s the part I always like to get.

Then comes the second part;  “the question”.  Something like: “My horse starts to buck every time my friends leave me out on the trail.  What should I do?”  Well, years ago, because I was so flattered that people were actually seeking out my opinion, I used to sit down and answer all these questions in detail.

In fact, their inquiries were the inspiration for many of my magazine articles. But as the volume of emails grew, my enthusiasm for answering questions that required long and open-ended answers diminished…especially as I began to realize how quickly my fans could whip these questions off to me, and how burdensome it was becoming to give them really meaningful, individual answers.

To free myself from this blessing turned curse I began to say: “Thanks for the kind words.  To get my answer to your questions, call me on my home phone.”  When given that option, most folks don’t call.  I have to admit, I was surprised! I thought that I had given a pretty good offer. What do you think? And, what should I make of that silence?

Well, seeing all these emails back on my desk, feeling frustrated with the lack of response to what I thought of as my generous offer, and annoyed by the thought of having to revisit them again, I decided to write the e-mailers a universal letter.

However, after letting my terse response sit on my desk for a day or two, I thought better of my plan.  Better not bite the hand that feeds, right? Then I thought that you, my friends in horses and good horsemanship, might get a smile from seeing the rather black humor that came out of my unresolved denouement.  You might even have some insight to share with me. So, here’s the letter that never got sent.  Hope you do get a chuckle out of it.

Dear X:

Some time ago you sent me a short email, asking me a horse related question. Thank you very much.  I appreciate your confidence in my knowledge. Because of the inordinate amount of time I anticipated that it would take me to adequately answer your numerous and interesting questions, I emailed you back and gave you my private phone number, hoping that we could address your equine issues through some pleasant mutual dialog. Yes, I invited you to call me for an answer.  But, unfortunately, I never heard back from you.

Now I’m wondering why? Don’t you see the predicament you’ve put me in by not calling? By ignoring my invitation, you’ve stuck me between a rock and a hard place.  Either I forget you, leaving you feeling ignored, with your questions still unanswered and therefore run the risk of being labeled as a stuck-up prig, or I take the time to answer you now, but in so doing I devalue my professional image as a busy, well known equine educator. Not being able to make this difficult choice, you have prompted me to sit down to the solitary and unsatisfying task of writing you this unsatisfactory response.

You see, I’m from the “old school”, the pre-baby boomer generation.  I grew up on dial telephones and “snail mail”. Now I find myself technologically left behind, a misfit in the world of computers and emails. I’m emotionally challenged daily by the amount of these hi-tech things that come to my attention.  I’m conflicted. On the one hand, I want to be polite and helpful.  On the other, I do not want to be cyber-abused, or taken advantage of. Can you see how difficult this is for me?

To my cowboy way of thinking, if a body was really looking for answers to troubling horsy questions they’d just pick up the damn phone and give me a personal call…especially when they’ve been personally invited to do so. Still, 99% of ’em don’t!

Probably just as well.  Then I’d be bitchin’ about that, and I’d have to get me one of those 900 numbers. I guess that ought to tell me something about exactly how much my answers mean to these e-mailers. Strangely enough, even when I do take the time to write long, thoughtful answers to the questions I get from folks, I rarely get even as much as a “thanks” from the people I answer. In the end, I guess this just goes to verify the old saying: “Free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it”.

So, now, my friend, I’m asking you. What would you do if you were in my place?  I know that you are someone of sharp intellect and deep insight, someone whom I can trust to give me sensitive and meaningful, thought-provoking advise.