There’s a quaint little custom that used to play out on sweltering days inside Representatives Hall in Concord, where the New Hampshire House of Representatives holds its State House sessions.
Until fairly recently, the House chamber was not air conditioned, so things got mighty uncomfortable on hot, humid days in late May or June, when the session was wrapping up. Compounding the misery for male members was that they were expected to wear coats and ties.
On such days it was an especially welcome moment for the men in the House when a female member stepped to the podium and – speaking on behalf of the other ladies in the House – asked the Speaker for dispensation so that gentlemen might be allowed to remove their coats during the session.
While allowing men to work in shirtsleeves probably didn’t do much to cool off the rhetoric during debate, it was a sweet gesture that was appreciated.
There is another, more important custom that plays out in New Hampshire and legislative bodies around the world, one aimed at promoting decorum and preventing members from getting too hot under the collar during debate. You might have noticed it if you’ve watched C-SPAN or streamed a legislative session from Concord: members on the floor never address one another directly. Rather, all remarks are directed at the chair of the legislative body, usually the House Speaker or Senate President.
That means that any personal broadsides or insults members might be inclined to throw at one another are at least
filtered through a third person – the presiding officer. The idea behind the practice is that having to address remarks to a third party makes them just a little less personal to those on the receiving end.
It was with that same thought in mind that one of the adjustments we made to our letters guidelines some months back was to ask our readers – when responding to another person’s letter – to avoid personal attacks by writing in the third person. In other words, we want readers to avoid the use of the term “you” in their letters by directing their remarks to the paper itself, or the editor. That allows the newspaper to provide at least a modest buffer in the interests of decorum.
That also extends to so-called “open letters.”
If people want to write letters, open or otherwise, directly criticizing another person using the “you” form, they have that right and there is a means; the U.S. Postal Service affords a time-tested method for sending such messages to a person directly.
Fortunately, most readers of The Laconia Daily Sun who send in letters write in the third person, which we believe is the best practice to promote civil discourse, especially among people who disagree. Going forward, we will ask writers who submit letters written in the second-person format – letters that address other writers directly – to revise and resubmit them.