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Should I Write an Open Letter About How Hard my Life is?

Of course not.

Writing open letters to everyone seems a favorite pastime of millennials. These letters address a whole range of recipients and issues and they receive a good bit of attention.

Take, for example, this piece by talia jane: “An Open Letter To My CEO”. Talia describes in painstaking detail how hard her life is. Having an entry level position. Barely getting by in a city like San Francisco. All that while the CEO is quite wealthy. Publishing this got her fired and 1350 written responses — many of them enthusiastically supportive, some negative, others more balanced.

Talia’s letter just serves to illustrate how these many open letters work. This piece looks at these letters in general. There are letters to white writers, letters about sexual stereotypes in pop culture, more letters to CEOs, letters to design students, and even, I kid you not, open letters responding to open letter responses. The open letter is the opinion format de jour.

The most intriguing of those open letters come from the same genre that our example piece, erm… exemplifies. The complaint. The accusation. The decrying of injustice suffered, some real, some imagined. I’d like to call it the open complaint letter.

So let us examine the open complaint letter as such, shall we?

Lazy Letters

Open complaint letters are symptoms of a certain laziness. Not that laziness is bad, per se. Still, open complaint letters touch many subjects, yet they rarely lead to any meaningful change. Why are they so damn popular?

They’re easy to write

First, it’s not hard to write an open complaint letter. If you’ve got a way with words, it’s easy to do. Just follow this — very stereotypical — template and let those words flow.

Dear guilty party,
here is why you are wrong and I am right. You really, really should do something about it at your earliest convenience. So I don’t have to.
Downtrodden Me

Oh, it must feel good to write them. They’re often very well written, a pleasure to read. I’ll be the first to admit how satisfying it can be to read my own writing and think (mistakenly): “Well put, Daniel, well put.”

It’s like therapy. Plus: It’s free and it’s fun.

If the letter hits a nerve, several 100,000 people will react. The issue gets attention. The writer gets attention. Many very smart people discuss the many aspects of it. A “conversation” takes place, and then …

… then nothing happens.

They’re without consequence

Open complaint letters are really good at calling out the problem. No matter whether it’s legitimate or arbitrary, it gets called out.

However the letters rarely, if ever, propose viable solutions. Nothing of consequence follows.

Because solutions are hard.

Working on solutions is frustrating at first, but very rewarding in the long run. It requires long-term dedication, realism and an open mind. Qualities, which not all writers of open complaint letters may possess, despite their undeniable creativity and passion.

So many good people have endured hardship and prevailed without open letters or other forms of therapeutic writing.

I just had to do it

If I were to write an open letter to those writers of open complaint letters, it would go a bit like this.

Dear complaining party,
I understand that you are a smart and eloquent person with an axe to grind.
You have to understand my point as well — that I would hate to see your wits wasted on words. Deeds matter. Please try to do everything in your might to right this wrong before writing about.
When you succeed, you will have a much better story to tell.

But that would have been an awfully short post.


I considered including my experiences. They could have been perfect open complaint lettter material.

Then I could have made a point of not turning them into an open complaint letter.

But some letters are better left unwritten.