A grade school teacher of mine used to have the following statement above our chalkboard:

“Silence is golden. Let’s have a million dollars worth.”

I like silence, too. The quiet of a spring morning just as the sun rises is contemplaintive. I love to soak in the quiet after my two grandchildren leave my place with my daughter. That silence is broken only by a barely audible sigh. Silence as my head hits my pillow at night is wonderful. I think of silence as peaceful.

But there is some silence that just drive me nuts, mainly because I just don’t know what it means.

For example, I recently wrote via snail mail to a customer who lives out of state. The next ABAA book fair was coming up, and I had a few books I thought he might like. And I wanted to offer him a free pass to the fair. He had purchased nearly $10,000 worth of books at the previous ABAA book fair, so this seemed like a good idea. I don’t know if he has e-mail. I know that I don’t have any e-mail address for him, so I also asked if he would like to share that e-mail address with me so that future communications could be a bit swifter. Day by day passed. Each day I wondered if that day would bring a response, even if that response was, “Sorry, but no.” Instead, I was disappointed each day to receive only silence. I guess he declined, but it’s only a guess. Maybe he died. Maybe he’s been out of town. Maybe this. Maybe that. All I have is speculation. And the feeling that I’ve been treated rudely.

A couple of months ago an institution near me was interested in a rather expensive item costing $12,500. The librarian asked for several scans. I sent them, as requested. What do you think followed? Silence. She didn’t even bother to acknowledge that she had indeed received the requested scans. This is simply rude behavior. I’ve had this experience with a few librarians in the past. Does it mean that librarians are rude? That they are taught not to respond? Does her silence mean she wasn’t interested? Maybe she was still thinking about it, but wouldn’t proper behavior require her to let me in on what otherwise appears to be a secret? Once again, all I have is speculation. In this case it wasn’t me who initiated the offering. It was the librarian. Doesn’t she have some obligation here? In cases like this I ask myself, what would my mother have done. My mother would have responded, even if the answer was “Sorry, no.” If my mother can have good manners, why can’t librarians?

Unfortunately, I have no answers, just questions, and the belief that civility and good manners in the 21st Century, in this age of immediate wireless connection, has been left behind like some poor step-cousin.


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2 responses to “Silence

  1. James:

    I think most of us have had this experience over the last few years. Customers requesting pictures, and then not even acknowledging receipt.

    Early on, I’d get messages like “send photos!” as if I was being ordered by some Amazon god to stand up and bark like the well-trained dog or monkey Jeff Bezos believed us all to be.

    For a while, I thought to suggest to the ABAA at large that we come up with a sort of “buyers/customers'” code of ethics–with a list of do’s and don’ts when dealing with serious booksellers.

    Up near the top of such a list, would be ordinary courtesy when making polite inquiries. As in “Don’t assume the seller ‘owes’ you something, like a suite of photos, or a 50% discount, or free shipping,” “Treat the seller the way you would any honest tradesperson, with please and thank-you, and ‘would you please be so kind to’ etc.”

    The other thing is the obsession with hurry. Jeff Bezos has created an audience of rabid weasels who think that fast service (as a quantity) is somehow more important than the goods themselves. We had one customer who ordered a book on Friday, and when it didn’t show up as having been shipped by Monday morning, promptly cancelled her order! I mean, in a case like that, you almost have to believe the customer is playing a game, rather than purchasing a product. The service is BECOMING the product!

  2. Thank you Curtis. Funny how I appreciate good manners the older I get, and yet good manners seem to have been tossed out the window by people who should know better. Onward. Jim

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