“I hope this email finds you well.”
As we all know, there are a multitude of problems with this opener; just take a look at the multitude of memes:
Never, in the history of ever, have I ever sat at my desk, devoid of emails, and thought, “I really hope someone would email me right now.”
Further, I have never been at my desk, basking in the delightful fluorescence of indoor lighting, crushed under a weighty to-do list, struggling with the existential void, heard the ping in my inbox, and thought, yes, this email just finds me so absolutely *well* right now. I am the very picture of mental and emotional health! I am a paragon of strength and stability, a very specimen of vigor! I will respond to this email with not only enthusiasm but utter alacrity! Thank you, sender, for your well wishes!
In fact, although I receive significantly fewer emails these days than I used to (enter actually delightful messaging system), I recently bought a sweatshirt with this image on it (gosh, targeted internet advertising has me awfully dialed in) and wear it with no small pleasure at least biweekly:
It’s just. So. Funny. And clearly universal; we’ve all received an email with this attention-grabbing introduction.
But here’s the thing: we must have, a large portion of us, sent one, too.
Here is my confession: I have sent an email that started with “I hope this email finds you well.” GAHHHH! Worse: I did it during the first confusing weeks of the pandemic. March, April of 2020, emailing groups of teachers, home, alone, teaching on Zoom in isolation. Please forgive me. It was the closest I could get, at the time, to something else I wanted to say, something much bigger and more complex, which was that I just wanted to find people. It was so hard to connect, to let people know that I saw them, cared for them, knew them, still, across the sudden disconnect the pandemic had created.
The pandemic: that was a thing. Do you remember it? It’s been declared as “over” and in our rearview. But it wasn’t just school closures, or sheltering in place, social distancing, masks, grocery stores with empty shelves. It was a spring and summer of protests and social upheaval. The world, literally and metaphorically, was on fire. There was so much fighting. Everything–but everything–was politicized.
Even though the pandemic has been declared to be officially over, so much of what went with it is still with us–fires, fighting, rage, and confusion. I know because road rage is at an all time high. Crime rates spiked. I saw a post on Reddit yesterday where the OP simply said, “Is it just me, or is everything awful?”
The experience of awfulness and acting out wasn’t limited to adults.. Remember the TikTok craze that had kids stealing from teachers and destroying school restrooms? Everyone was horrified and used it as proof that TikTok is horrible. But what about this: toddlers, when sad, angry, tired, or hungry, will act out and throw a tantrum, because they’re feeling feelings bigger than their bodies are used to feeling, and don’t have the capacity yet to address those feelings in a constructive way. Teenagers (and honestly, most adults for that matter), are simply big toddlers. Teenagers’ brains and bodies are rewiring, growing rapidly, changing, and moving, and often feeling feelings bigger than they are used to feeling. So teenagers, post pandemic, having survived school closures, a summer of protests and societal upheaval, return to school with no support or reflection or any kind of healing on what had just happened.
I know because, as adults, we didn’t provide any collective support, reflection, or healing. But how could we provide what we haven’t done either?
I bet that many of you, as you read that, were picturing the Spider-Man pointing finger meme, blaming someone else for what happened–probably a political party, a specific politician, etc.
But on a personal level, have you reflected on the two years of the pandemic? If you have kids, have you talked to them about what that time was like for them? What have we done to be real in the wake of the very strange time that the pandemic presented for us to live through?
In public education–as with the rest of the world, I believe–there was a push to return to normal. Get kids back to class! Recover learning loss! The focus on returning to normal as quickly as possible superseded the need to address the more nebulous reflection and healing from the pandemic (that adults hadn’t done yet anyway); thus, students returned, full force, to the academic classroom. Consequently, kids acted out. Threw tantrums. Ripped urinals off the walls in school buildings. It actually kind of makes a strange sense, if you look at it through the right lens. Much like the adults, the email did NOT and is still not finding them well, thank you.
Look, the closest we’ve come, collectively, to dealing with anger, hurt, and challenging events, is to make funny memes about what we’ve been through.A quick Google image search of “how the email finds me,” yields the cursory knowledge that we’re not altogether well. Not yet. No indeed. Now, that could just be a joke about how we’re doing at work–but I doubt it. I daresay it’s the same for our kids, who are also not really all right.
Memes are the closest we come to saying what we mean: listen, some things happened recently (pandemic, lock down, protests, politicization and polarization of everything, we cannot, in fact, just all get along, 965,237,034 incidents of gun violence–an estimation; I’ve lost count, and so on and so forth). It is in this world in which we are all, genuinely and actually trying, somehow, against all odds, to be well. How quaint of us.
So in the spirit of saying what I mean, trying my best to individually–and maybe even leaning toward the collective–think about what I’ve been through, what we’ve been through, and try to reflect upon it, so that I (and maybe we) might grow, learn, and be all right, I’m thinking again about the words I use. In speaking. And in writing. In, for example, emails.
I’m in HR now, in a role where it is basically my job to take care of people. I don’t send a lot of group emails; I’m saved by the aforementioned wonderful, culture building Slack-like messaging system we have where I work. For the most part, if I send an all group message, it’s short, sweet, and to the point, and I start out with a pretty informal “hey y’all!”
If I did send a large group email, and I were tempted to start it with the dreaded “I hope this email finds you well,” here are alternatives for what I would actually mean:
I hope this email finds you ______
- At least alive; sometimes, that’s the most we can ask of ourselves in one heck of a challenging world. Maybe just take a few breaths in and out, because honestly, the most important thing here is you, and your life, and you deserve a few moments to be centered.
- Well–I do actually care about your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health.
- Thriving; I mean, I realize that’s a bit much for a work email, and kind of cheesy, but in earnestness, I believe everyone deserves time to thrive, at work and in their personal lives, and if you’re in a time where you’re thriving, I love that and want to help support and nurture it.
- Surviving/resting/being nurtured. No one and nothing thrives all the time. In the deep of the coldest January, the crocus in my yard, in the frozen earth, are sleeping, waiting, resting. Perhaps you’re having a cold, dark January, in which case, I hope you are, in some way, taken care of, nurtured, able to rest and heal.
I hope this article finds you well.