I have been thinking a great deal about letters lately. Last week, I had the privilege of participating in a George Washington Summer Teacher Institute. For an entire week, I was immersed in the study of George Washington’s life and legacy, guided by some incredible scholars, digging into the primary documents of his time. The bulk of these documents seemed to be letters. Letters were not only the way to communicate with loved ones, they were the way that generals asked for funds or supplies; the way that farmers communicated plans for planting and harvesting; they were the way the founding fathers shared ideas and debated how this new country should be set up and run.
On a personal level, I have always been a letter-writer, and a letter-lover. While handwritten letters are the gold-star standard, even typed and emailed letters fall into this category. People communicating through the written word. People sharing ideas, making connections, and building communities and relationships. These things help to document lives and create legacies. When these types of personal writings are studied along with the public documents of a culture and society, we have a deeper understanding of history on a personal and deeper level.
I can’t help but wonder about what future generations will think and conclude when they look at the personal writings of today. Letters, even emailed letters, seem to be pushed aside in favor of texts and social media posts. While these things certainly have a place and a value, when they become the entirety of a person’s personal writing, they do not tell us the complete story.
This got me thinking more deeply about letters and writing today. It got me contemplating about the types of writing we all do and the differences between public and private writing. Some considerations when looking at personal writing might be:
The Purpose: WHY
- To share ideas, thoughts, and perspectives
- To make connections with another person
- To explain thinking, positions, and reasoning
The Audience: WHO
- Those in the larger community
- Posterity, history, legacy
The Method: HOW
- Written letters on stationery
- Letters to the Editor
- Blogs and social media posts
While letters may not be the only way to communicate and share our ideas, in my opinion, they are still one of the best.
So write a letter this week!