E-mail response paralysis

Living by the Spirit – and thus, writing from the Spirit – can be playful. It can evoke laughter and smiles. Un petit exemple, penned in 2001 and included in my book, Focused Living in a Frazzled World

Ponderer poised to typeIf you’re one of the people waiting for me to answer your e-mail, please don’t be angry. I can explain.

No, actually, I can’t explain. But I think it has something to do with the century in which I was born.

I’d have done well in the days of quill and ink. In that era, while you were blotting, you had time to ponder what to say next.

In today’s e-mail e-ra, people expect a reply roughly 4.5 seconds after clicking the Send button. That’s no problem for some of the guys on my floor at work. They can answer 120 e-mails in just under 12 minutes.

And me? Well, I delete the deletable stuff immediately, especially anything forwarded that says, “If you do not send this warning and/or message of love to your 25 closest friends, you are dirty scum not fit to walk this planet.” But when it comes to real messages demanding real answers, I ponder. I deliberate. I labor over the briefest of replies.

If you wrote me but haven’t heard back, I’ve read your message – and appreciated it greatly. I probably also clicked Reply, typed, “Hi!” and, several agonizing minutes later, clicked the button to Delete my half-written response. I quit mid-message because:

  • I couldn’t think what to say;
  • I couldn’t think how to say it; and/or
  • 3,258 other duties, including 71 more unanswered e-mails, were shouting from all directions, “You’re taking too long with that one little message! Hurry!”

Alas, the word “hurry” often does more harm than good. In some cases, it can even create E-mail Response Paralysis, also known as ERP.

So here I sit, swamped with unanswered messages, trying desperately not to ERP, while my unanswered senders out there in cyberspace echo the sentiment a young upstart named Elihu expressed to a sufferer named Job. With Elihu they cry:

Behold, I waited for your words … while you pondered what to say (Job 32:11).

My accusers are right. I’m guilty as charged: a confirmed ponderer. But may I say in my own defense: Pondering may make for slower answers, but it usually makes for better ones.

In Proverbs 5:5-6, a man known for his wisdom used these words to describe the woman who “does not ponder the path of life”: “Her feet go down to death … Her ways are unstable, she does not know it.” Not a good scenario, wouldn’t you say?

By contrast, this same wise man declared in Proverbs 15:28:

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer.

Now hang with me here. In the original language of the Old Testament, this word ponder is hagah, a close cousin to our own, “Ah hah!” A man named Vine who wrote a dictionary explaining such words, said, “It seems to be an onomatopoetic term, reflecting the sighing and low sounds one may make while musing.”

If we stuff all the meanings of hagah into that one sentence from Proverbs, it reads: The heart of the righteous moans, growls, utters, muses, mutters, meditates, devises, plots, speaks.

Notice that the speaking (or in this case e-mail writing) comes after much rather noisy deliberation.

Ponderer poised to typeSo if you’re expecting an e-reply from me, take heart: it will eventually come. Meanwhile, imagine me sitting at my computer moaning, muttering, meditating, musing until that ah hah! moment when I know just what to say.

. . . . . . .

“E-mail Response Paralysis” is adapted from Snapshot 102 in Focused Living in a Frazzled World: 105 Snapshots of Life, by Deborah Brunt. © 2001, 2005, 2012 by Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations are from New American Standard Bible (NASU).

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