Do you have Lincoln’s filter? Justin Bieber sure doesn’t. ("Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.") And, Mel Gibson most definitely didn’t. And Charlie Sheen doesn’t
have any kind of filter at all. (“I’m so tired of pretending my life isn’t perfect and bitching and just winning every second and I’m not perfect and bitchin’.”)
So what, exactly, is Lincoln’s filter? I’ll paraphrase the description from a biography of our 16th president written by one of his two private secretaries, John Hay.
Lincoln was arguably the most polarizing president in American history. In fact, one could argue that Obama and W. combined weren’t as polarizing as Honest Abe. As a result, The Great Emancipator received hundreds of letters, notes and telegrams that either disagreed with his policies, called him horrible names or threatened death. Since many of these missives came from leading politicians, journalists and businessmen, Lincoln would often respond immediately. He’d dash off a heated response to an irate letter, and then set it aside for the entire night. The next morning, reports Hay, Lincoln would re-read each, and every, one of his responses and, invariably, toss 90 percent in the wastebasket. Why? Because Abe didn’t want to respond in the heat of the moment, say something he didn’t intend to have repeated or have his remarks misinterpreted.
I’m working hard to improve my Lincoln filter. But, I’ve had issues along the way. One of my blogs ended up being front page news on O’Dwyer’s for two successive weeks. Another earned me a lifetime ban from being a PR Week awards judge (Yes, Virginia, I’m the Pete Rose of public relations). And, a third so incensed an ultra-conservative client that he used it as the excuse to terminate our relationship (when, in fact, his PR budget had been cut).
And, if reply-to-all e-mail responses were a felony offense, I’d be serving 10-to-15 years in prison at Sing-Sing as we speak.
But, I am trying to improve. I find myself deleting many, many e-mails that, in my Bieber/Gibson/Sheen days, I would have sent. And, I have two great teams of internal editors who review my Repman and Inc. Magazine columns before they ever see the light of day. I cannot tell you how many times my peers have saved my hide (if not my reputation).
So, how about you? Were you born with a Lincoln filter or, like me, have you had to learn when to hit send and when the smarter, safer course of action is, instead, to simply press delete? Either way, I’d love to hear your war stories. Civil, or otherwise.