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National Memo Day—Make a Note, Please!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
May 16, 2020

May 21st is National Memo Day. You might say, “So what?” Well, I pondered on this subject a bit and came to the conclusion that this is a very important day and subject for all of us. Some might think that memos are a vestige of the past. My position is that we need more short written communication so as to bring back personality, respect and civility in our communications with each other. Take a note on that please! 

Today’s current generation was born in a time when computerized communication was strongly encouraged. Often, we were told that you had to save all emails and texts so you have some type of eternal record that you answered this question or took some other action. The administrative workload to do that offset the speed gains of automation. In addition, emails contain no emotive properties so after a while we were encouraged to use smiley faces and other means of displaying mood when typing these communications. This has been taken to the extreme currently with mnemonics such as “idk” (I Don’t Know), “icymi” (In Case You Missed it) or “IMHO” (In My Humble Opinion). “JK” (Just Kidding) and “LOL” (Laughing Out Loud) are reserved to let the receiver know that you are in a jovial mood of some type.

The Old Days

In the 1960s, when I was a primary and secondary grade student, all my communication was written, and we also received written report cards from the school administrators. These were small light brown folding cards for that purpose and teachers wrote your grades and a note next to them in ink. I don’t think I’ll forget the note that Mrs. Carlson, my fifth-grade teacher, wrote in my report card. We used to call her, “Iron Finger Carlson,” because she had a habit of walking up and down the rows of students in the class and slamming her finger down on your shoulder while you were seated at your desk. Thankfully she picked both my shoulders otherwise I would have left her class lopsided. Her report card note: “Robert is capable of doing some much better work—if he would just stop drumming on his desk!” Looking back, she was right—I was a snare drummer in the Colonel John Chester Fife and Drum Marching Band and well, never mind. Written communication flourished in schools in yet another way; pen pals. Many of us had a pen pal in some faraway country that we would write to, wait for what seemed like an eternity and relish the day when we received a reply in the mail. Inside was generally a short written note or memo because the correspondent did theirs in English and you know, didn’t want to take the time to make it a masterpiece memo. One of my Pentagon friends used to say, “Don’t build a Taj Mahal where a straw shack will do!” (Insert LOL here… J)

On the home front, if you were invited to someone’s house for dinner, upon the conclusion of that social interaction, you would write a memo of thanks to that family and place it in the mail—even if the family lived down the street from you. There is something special about a written thank you and I believe it should make a comeback in our impersonal times where many young people can’t even make eye contact with each other. We received two thank you memo cards just the other day and it was so heartwarming to receive them—a nice, personal touch. Note to young people: you can do this quite easily and it will distinguish you as a very cultured person and a social leader!

Today

Hand-written memos are a rarity. With instant messaging and other modes of fast electronic communication, we have become a less personable society. Within public administration and private enterprise, mass communication methods are certainly warranted and reach large audiences with a single mouse click. There are times, however, when a personable handwritten memo will carry the day. Leaders everywhere must gain the wisdom to know when a memo is just the right thing—and when it is not.

Summary

We communicate, but not from the heart—just from the head. We transmit electrons instead of fashioning a memo that could only have come from someone’s thoughts transmitted to the fingers and then to the paper it resides on. We are losing the art of social connection. Perhaps we can rediscover and employ the power of the handwritten memo. From the vast network of government offices in Washington D.C. to the social structure of a small West Texas town, short written memos can recapture a sense of belonging and connection to each other. I believe that a rebirth of such communication can re-energize our bonds with each other and bring about a strong sense of connection and responsiveness to each other. Next, we will rediscover the beauty of quill pens!


Author: Dr. Robert Brescia is a U.S. Army veteran, having served the nation for 27 years as a soldier, NCO, and commissioned officer. He loves helping other veterans when he can. His latest book is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Please contact him at [email protected].

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