A recently rediscovered 1957 mailpiece sparked a Wall Street Journal essay last week about a disappearing art form: the apology letter.
Paula Marantz Cohen, a dean and English professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, wrote the essay, which describes a letter that a friend’s parents received from a businessman apologizing for a billing error.
It seems the company discovered that it accidentally posted a $2 payment from the couple to another customer’s account.
“This explanation is not intended as an excuse, for there can be no excuse for such errors,” the businessman wrote.
The letter recalls a time when people placed more value on civility, according to Cohen. She sees the loss of apology letters as a sign of the times.
“The computerized nature of modern business has eroded human contact, and in a litigious culture an apology can be construed as an admission of guilt,” Cohen writes.
She adds that she keeps of a copy of the letter in her wallet to “lift my spirits in the face of a rude world — and to remind me how to say my own apologies, when the occasion inevitably arises.”