Not Everyone Needs to Have an E-mail Address

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The kindest thing you might say to someone this week is, "How would you like to be reached: via e-mail, phone, or mail?" That doesn't sound like an Earth-shattering act of kindness, but let me tell you why it might sound exceedingly kind to some in our community.

E-mail is a useful form of communications, but there are many people in our community who would prefer not using e-mail. And that's fine. It's totally fine.

Sure, if someone chooses not to use e-mail, that could place an added burden in trying to reach them. But that's fine. Added burdens are fine. Here is why.

Some people in our community courageously live their lives with mental illness. Mental illness is an illness that is just like any other illness. We care about people that are ill, don't we? There but for the grace of God go you or I.

People who are living with mental illness sometimes find it difficult to concentrate, and they may well find computers to be overwhelming. And that's fine. We should not require them to do something they find overwhelming.

And so the next time you hear someone say they don't have an e-mail address, you can do them a favor by not saying, "Let me set one up for you." They may not want an e-mail address. Honest. They may not want one. At all.

And the kind-hearted thing to say would be, "I'll give you a call" or "I'll send you a letter." Is it annoying to have to find an envelope, address it, and affix a postage stamp? It's annoying to the extent that another person's illness is not worth bothering about. And there are people who feel that another person's illness is not worth bothering about. So go ahead and be annoyed if that's your frame of mind. Or try to rise above annoyance if kindness to people who are ill is what you're about.

The most unkind thing you could say this week is, "I can't understand why you don't want a free e-mail address." Although not intended to demean, that statement diminishes others. People should not have to explain to others how and why their brain works in a certain way. We can imagine that there are differences between different people. Honest. We can imagine that. And we can graciously accept and accommodate those differences.

Someone out there is going to be grateful if we do. They will heave a sigh of relief. If you hear that sigh, you'll know you're on the right track. It's okay to share a short smile of understanding at that point. Understanding is what makes us human. It's also what makes us humane.

Phil Shapiro

(The blogger lives and works in the Washington DC-area. He can be reached at

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