Take Care When Writing

I will tell you one story — not in full or translation — instead, just a short summary. It was written by Hindi writer Yashpal.

A very dutiful and responsible young teacher was given additional charge of the NCC in an intermediate college. Before the vacations, all the uniforms were supposed to be cleaned, and locked in the store room; after the vacations, the cadets were supposed to attend a camp. On the last day, the teacher noticed that the uniforms were not ready for storage. On making queries, he found that the washerman was on bed with smallpox; otherwise the uniforms were already washed up. Now, the uniforms could not be stored as such without being disinfected, but there was not sufficient time for that process. He reported to the principal, who refused to listen to the arguments, and simply ordered that the students have to attend the camp and the uniforms must be stored that very day, and his signatures should be obtained that very same day before afternoon. The teacher was forced to obey and to give it in writing that the uniforms were inspected and found in proper state at the time of storage. Well, when the camp did start, smallpox affected several students and took lives of two of them. An enquiry was ordered and the principal put the blame back on the teacher, even showing the document the latter had given in writing. After some argument, the principal imparted some worldly wisdom to the teacher and suggested him to apply for a lecturer job in the university. [1]

Unless someone shares such experiences, it is difficult to figure out this unwritten law by oneself. But once our attention is drawn to it, we notice it being played all around us, all the time. With all other knowledge and wisdom, this sage advice is passed on to all the younger colleagues: ‘Do not give anything in written’. It holds for your actions at the workplace and also away from it. This is specially true in the internet age when information is never lost, and whatever you have written or posted online, can either boomerang on you immediately, or come back to haunt you several years later. This becomes especially important when you are in a responsible position and any information against you has a potential to harm your reputation, and professional and social standing.

All of us grow up in nearly same way. Childhood mischiefs, crazy actions of youth, and more and more thoughtfulness with advancing age. And at any stage we are not aware of how our present actions are going to affect our future life. Hence, we take our minor steps for granted. Unfortunately, when such scenario does occur, it is impossible for us to go into the past to rectify the mistake made.

You might also recall Barack Obama’s advice to students some time back: “….I want everybody here to be careful about what you post on Facebook, because in the YouTube age whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life” and then “And when you’re young, you know, you make mistakes and you do some stupid stuff” also “I’ve been hearing a lot about young people who, you know, they’re posting stuff on Facebook, and then suddenly they go apply for a job” and so on. [2]

More than this I would not write; instead I would leave it on you to take up the wings of imagination and think for a while the various ways in which life could become difficult for you. There are two cases here — first is regarding written documents and reports at workplace — similar to the case in Yashpal’s story; and second is about your online activities — social networking sites and e-mails etc, where we tend to be relaxed and casual. Taking up a position in the first case might not be easy given the circumstances; however, in the second case, viz., online posting, you definitely could be more careful and cautious. I have not distinguished between these two cases and at places mixed the two occasions, mainly because my aim is only to draw your attention to the instances where you write something in your handwriting, or where any material goes from your name, identification, or address.

We consider trust to be obvious. However, you would also agree that in the present day society, trust is the most difficult thing to secure, and we simply do not know our real friends. This is a sad development, but perhaps we can only accept it as a fact of life.

I would take leave with a short amusing story that was telecast on Doordarshan. Two friends worked in an office. One of them was a very good poet, and he had vowed never to marry. The other was head-over-heels in love with a colleague. This romeo asked his poet friend to write some romantic poems, which he could use to impress the lady. The poet agreed — everyday he would write beautiful poems, and his romantic friend would keep them on the lady’s desk with a flower. Well, the young lady recognized the handwriting, ‘accepted’ the unproposed proposal, and married the poet.

Further Reading:
1- जाब्ते की कार्रवाई, लेखक – यशपाल, संकलन – उत्तराधिकारी, लोकभारती प्रकाशन।
2- See for example, Barack Obama warns US teenagers of the dangers of Facebook, The Telegraph, 9 September, 2009

photo credit: Typing via photopin (license)

7 thoughts on “Take Care When Writing

  1. Amit Misra

    If you read some review articles on politics, you would find how each and every word is scrutinised in detail. That is why leaders and politicians take extra care in drafting their speeches and addresses.

  2. Amit Misra

    One addition: Recently I told my colleague that I was able to decipher his identity though he had posted the content as 'Anonymous'.

    Precaution is always the best measure.


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