Writing a personal letter (either handwritten or typed as an e-mail) to someone is a ‘labour’ intensive process. One can be also be ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ at the same time. If the letter’s contents are meant for 100 people and the address is changed each time, it doesn’t become a personal letter. Group e-mails are not personal. A personal letter is specific, unique and is meant only for one addressee.
At first, a letter has to be healthy. Errors of any sort (factual, grammatical, or numerical) in a letter are undesirable in any case and more so when it is official. If possible, a healthy letter can be neat and clean (no overwriting). In addition, a neat letter can be beautiful with an artistic handwriting and conceptual cohesion. So, you see an order here, don’t you? Health followed by neatness, and then comes beauty. Although this holds good in most situations, the reverse can happen especially in case of mathematical equations (language) and poetry. They form an exception rather than the norm. Strikingly, human body is expected to follow the sequence of health, neatness and beauty as well.
We will stick to the usual case for our discussion. We are also restricting ourselves to personal letters. If a recipient of a letter finds some errors in the letter, what should she/he do? On top of that, if the letter is untidy and illegible, what should s/he do?
If the sender (assuming that it is a ‘he’) is a stupid idiot and has sent a love letter meant for someone else to you (she), then God, save the sender! The situation will be worse if the letter is badly written and is full of grammatical errors. It will be even worse if you (she) were under the impression that the sender loved you and the person named in the letter is known to you. God…run and save yourself!
The same logic doesn’t apply if the sender is the prime minister of a country and he is sending a handwritten personal letter of condolence to a grieving mother, who has lost her soldier son to a war.
A prime minister, with all his responsibilities is not expected to write hand written letters to relatives of every citizen of his country who dies under artificial circumstances. If he has taken an initiative to address at least a section of them (soldiers, in this case), then it must be treated as a sincere response to a deeply felt sadness. It does hurt when the recipient sees that the letter is unintelligible and her son’s name is misspelled. Her despair is justified and she could easily seek a personal apology from the PM. Instead, if she goes public and chooses to go to a newspaper, which is known to have openly taken a stance against the PM, it reflects bad taste.
Personal letters are always written with a belief and a confidence in the recipient. A belief, that the recipient will treat them as ‘personal’. If segments of front-line national media misbehave and opportunistically react to a well-intended gesture from a PM, then it must be discouraged. It is the responsibility of the people and the media to back a PM (who is more or less clean), even when he is perceived to have made a minor mistake and even more so when the country is faced with more important crises.
I think that the post of a prime minister transcends political boundaries. S/he should and believed to put the nation before self. Similarly, people and media should not tie a PM’s character to his/her political grave, at least as long as s/he is still in the office. Although, from this it appears that PM’s personality is crucial and can be subjected to public scrutiny, it should not drag a personal letter of condolence and make a mockery of it.
(Recently, the English prime minister Gordon Brown wrote a personal letter of condolence to a mother who had lost her son to the war on terror. He has a bad hand writing and the letter also had some errors. She went to the news paper The Sun, and it made a headline out of it. When the PM called her to apologize for any unintended mistakes, their conversation was recorded without his knowledge!)