A self-righteous open letter to people who write self-righteous open letters to people who write self-righteous open letters
Dear person who felt an emotion from someone else’s Open Letter:
I felt it, too.
Since the Open Letter has become the primary form of polemic communication in our modern era of self-publishing, thus the Open Letter in Response has become critical to the function of our democratic republic. Publishing platforms like Medium are accelerating this phenomenon, for better or worse.
But we can do better.
Following a young employee’s blog post complaining to her CEO about her inability to make financial ends meet (which resulted in her firing), dozens of other people decided to respond with their own open letters to her. Some were supportive. More were critical, and some were even nasty.
The blogger, Talia Jane, went into great detail about the hardship she faced in her low-wage job; the soul-crushing cost-of-living in the Bay Area; the hard choices that she faced every day; and the humiliation of receiving generosity from a CVS cashier who was apparently doing better than she was.
She also went into great detail contrasting her life of poverty with the largess of her work environment, as well as her perception of mismanagement there. In sum, it wasn’t the cleanest pile of laundry to air if you want to keep your job, which Talia clearly did not.
There’s clearly a lot going on in this story, including big-picture issues like housing scarcity in the Bay Area, the structural obstacles young people face getting ahead, and the challenges companies face employing people in this environment.
But it was the responses to the post— the many, many lectures of Talia and all the other people like Talia— that really seem to be begging this meta-lecture. So please indulge me, before you publish your own Open Letter to an Open Letter Writer.
First: You don’t know shit about the writer, besides what she wrote. Yes, fine, you are fully entitled to the emotional reaction that the blog post inspired in you. You also certainly have the right, if not entirely the responsibility, to respond to what she wrote.
But let’s temper our judgment with the appreciation that the contents of an emotional blog post is not the totality of the circumstances. This goes for any autobiographical essay. It’s okay to ask questions, but maybe don’t feel too assured in your conclusions, okay?
(Exception to this: That guy who demanded the SF City Government solve homelessness because it was starting to inconvenience him and his fellow, deserving, “wealthy working people.” That dude fully deserves your scorn.)
Second: Your life experience is probably irrelevant. Many responses to this type of post include, in breathtaking detail, the life experiences of older, wiser, and equally self-righteous people. Oh my God, the long lists of Terrifying Career Risks, the salary details, the personal sacrifices, the roommate situations. If only I could un-read those…
If your experiences took place more than a few years ago, they are not useful to recount. Today’s economic and social environment is vastly, vastly different from the ones of the past. And “past” can mean 2008 — you probably didn’t even have a smartphone then, fam. Technology, globalization, capital flight, deleveraging, and further financialization have caused tremendous dislocation and upheaval, and that rate of change is accelerating. Yes, this may be benefiting you because of your Smart Career Moves, but not everyone is positioned to benefit as such.
“But when I was 25…” Your path from post-college entry-level drudgery to millionaire bliss is quite impressive, indeed. Thanks for sharing it. Many of those doors you passed through may not open as widely anymore, or may not be open at all to entire classes of people, and they certainly aren’t available to all people.
And truly, “I did it, so everyone should be able to do it,” is the worst, most simplistic form of American bootstrap conservatism. Go work for the Ted Cruz campaign or something.
Related: Oh, so you engineered your young adulthood more astutely? Your life was yours. It was marked by a set of circumstances, challenges, and privileges (more on those later), all of which were different from any Open Letter Writer who has vexed you and who, please remember, you know nearly next-to-dick about.
Third: Your advice is probably useless. Here are a few samples of the advice that Open Letter Writer Talia didn’t solicit:
- You should pay less for your housing. That seems like a lot of rent for where you said it was. Maybe find a cheaper apartment or take some roommates? It’s weird that you never thought of that yourself. You’re welcome.
- You should change careers. Maybe learn to code. Did you know you can learn to code for free on the Internet now? If they had that when I was your age, I’d be a billionaire by now! Everyone can code. Everyone should code. Why the hell aren’t you coding? IGNORE YOUR TALENTS, SURRENDER YOUR PASSIONS, AND DO THIS OTHER THING INSTEAD.
- You should make better decisions, starting with going back in time and picking a different university major. If only you had me around at age 19 before you decided to study something without obvious career applications, you wouldn’t be in this mess.
- Shut up and keep your problems to yourself. Stop publishing. Delete your account. Sell your iPhone and use the proceeds for that precious food you keep demanding.
Fourth: You don’t need to stereotype. I’ve read a few Open Letter Responses that are overtly targeted toward “millennials.” Technically, this term should mean Americans born between 1980 and 2000, give or take. But quite often, people use it to mean “people who are younger than I am, and who need to learn what’s what, those little shits.”
If you see complaining about their careers as symptomatic of an entire generation of adults under 36, then you are engaging in stereotyping, and that’s not cool. And if you think any one person who is 25 years old is representative of a generation of 80 million Americans, then I would recommend trying to get to know more different kinds of people.
Sorry, you don’t get a pass for calling it out as a stereotype. “People like you reinforce the stereotype of millennials as entitled, whiny, self-centered, narcissistic, emotionally fragile, ditzy babies” is itself participating in this stereotyping.
(“A lot of people keep telling me that Megyn Kelly is a bimbo. I’m not going to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo.” — Donald Trump.)
If you’re, say, 45 years old, imagine if someone wrote an Open Letter addressing your entire generation because he or she didn’t like Charlie Sheen.
You can also just try empathy instead! Here’s a way to use stereotyping to gain empathy: Millennials have inherited a world of seemingly insurmountable financial and environmental debt. For many, there’s no easy way out. A smaller and smaller segment of society is eating up all the wealth and opportunity. That the game is rigged has become patently obvious. Nobody believes the American fables anymore. And now the psychological weight of this reality is expressing itself throughout our society. Can you imagine entering this new adult world with a $75,000 student loan to pay back?
(See how easy that was?)
Fifth: Check your damn privilege. If you’re a straight, white guy, realize that you have unfair structural advantages in society. Yes, we know, you worked so hard. You hit that triple all by yourself, with the corked Louisville Slugger that society handed you at birth.
Oh, me? I’m a straight, white guy. Sure, I graduated from a troubled urban public school system, where I was myself a racial minority, but then I… see, my story is already completely irrelevant to the situation.
In conclusion, I hope this guide was helpful and not a complete waste of your time, or more importantly, my time. If you would like to compose a response to it, you know exactly what form it should take.