A couple of weeks ago, my niece Denise was in the hospital with a serious liver problem and complications. A nurse walked into her room and found Denise crying. It seems that several doctors had been standing outside Denise’s hospital room, talking softly. Phrases Denise overheard included "Done all we could" and "Nothing else we can do for her." Thus Denise’s tears.
The doctors were talking about a different patient down the hall. Because they were out of earshot of that patient’s room, they thought they could get by with whispering in the corridor rather than walking to a staff lounge to talk about the patient’s condition.
They knew better, but they still whispered in the hallway. And their behavior hurt someone.
It’s the same in writing. We often know better, yet we ignore our better judgment. If we are lucky, nothing bad happens, but often it does.
We send an angry email when we know we should let time pass and either talk to the other person or craft an unemotional message. That angry email causes another one and another until the situation careens out of control.
We put in writing something we know we should say in person. The reader takes the written message the wrong way, and a working relationship turns sour.
We take the easy way out when we know we should edit a wordy memo introducing a new policy. Because of the unedited memo’s length and thickness, no one reads it. That important new policy might as well be locked in a secret vault.
We write a silly remark about padding a client’s bill, hoping it will be read as a joke. But the auditor and eventually the newspaper reporter don’t see it that way.
In all these situations, we know better. We just need to listen to that still, small voice that says "I know I shouldn’t." And then we need to add "so I won’t."
As for the doctors on Denise’s hospital floor, the nurse chewed them out good. Then a hospital administrator came to talk with Denise about whether she wanted to file a complaint. Always a cheerful, gentle woman, she said no. She was discharged from the hospital and looked brightly ahead to a possible liver transplant.
Sadly, Denise died today at the age of 40. This reminder to do the right thing is in her memory.