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A Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Written words matter, and – when penned by the right person, at the right time, and to the right audience – have the power to impact and ultimately change the course of history. One of the most important letters in American history was written by Martin Luther King Jr. from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama. The words he wrote left a strong impression on those who read them, helped to push his agenda to a broader audience and still influence readers today.

In April of 1963, King was imprisoned for leading a demonstration that brought attention to the injustice and racism suffered by African Americans in Birmingham. While in prison, a local newspaper published an open letter to King written by eight local Christian and Jewish leaders in which they criticized King and his approach in their city. King began to write his response on the edges of the newspaper before writing on scraps of paper given to him by his lawyers. When finished, he put together a 7,000-word defense of his plans and the goal of his organization.

Throughout the letter, King criticized and challenged those he felt were not doing their part in the fight against injustice, inspired his audience with stories and quoted Scripture, theologians, philosophers, and politicians to make his argument stronger. Famous lines such as “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and the legal phrase “justice too long delayed is justice denied” were used to convince the doubters of his approach. He wrote a compelling argument for disobeying unjust laws by citing Nazi Germany and how it was illegal to help the Jews under the Hitler regime.

The letter was eventually published in a number of newspapers and magazines and helped to shine a light on the need for reform. Many people credit King’s letter as being a major motivating factor in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and helping to turn the tide of public opinion in his favor. We would encourage you to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year by taking the time to read the entire Letter. It is a great reminder of the struggles our country faced in the 1960’s and is a challenge to all to defend the rights of the powerless and work on behalf of those without a voice. His words are still true today.

Although it is unlikely any of us will ever write something as powerful and historic as the Letter from Birmingham Jail, words can make a difference. Written at the right time, to the right people, they can shape and change thoughts and actions. Don’t underestimate the impact your words can have on others.

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A Brief History of Letter Writing

At Indelible Cards, we believe in the value of the handwritten letter and have blogged about the reasons why, how to write a letter, and who should receive handwritten letters. Just like everything else, there had to be a beginning to letter writing, so we thought we would give you a brief history of the written word. We take our alphabet and writing for granted, but how did this form of communication begin and evolve throughout generations? Below are a few of the critical moments in history that helped to form the exchange of letters as we know it today.

Earliest Writings

The first known writings appeared in about 3400 B.C. in Mesopotamia in the Middle East. These documents were primarily economic and administrative tasks marked on clay tablets. The markings are called cuneiform, which consist of wedge-shaped marks on the tablets. Over the years the markings became more advanced and eventually they started recording stories, songs and poetry on the tablets. These recovered letters give us an insight into their worlds and helped form much of what is in our History books.

The Alphabet

The markings eventually were replaced by a group of symbols that represented the sounds of language, or what we would call an alphabet. It is believed that the first alphabet was created in the second millennium B.C. and was spread by Phoenician traders. This was extremely important, as it made the writing available to the people and not just the highly educated. The alphabet continued to evolve until the 8th Century B.C. when the Greek alphabet was created, and became the foundation for alphabets and languages around the world.

The First Letter

It is believed the first handwritten letter came from the Persian Queen Atossa around 500 B.C. As letter writing became more and more popular ancient civilizations created relay and transportations systems, couriers and even pigeons to make sure the letters moved from location to location. For the first time, this allowed people to communicate without having to physically be in the same location.

The Stamp

These systems continued until 1840 when Great Britain created a prepaid stamp. This allowed letters to be exchanged without the recipient having to pay upon arrival, which gave the sender confidence their letter would be read. The United States saw the success and by 1847 had created a standardized stamp for the country.

The Future

Where will communication go in the future? If you would have told ancient civilizations about phones, text messaging, email and social media, they probably would not have been able to comprehend these concepts. Will the same be said about us in the future? Possibly, but as modes of communication have changed over the decades, the value of the handwritten letter has not. People still get excited and appreciate any time they open the mailbox and see a letter with their name on it. At Indelible Cards, we don’t see that changing.

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A Handwritten Christmas Card

For many people, sending and receiving Christmas cards is as much a part of the Holiday season as exchanging gifts. Much thought is put into the right picture or card (do you create your own with a family picture, or buy in bulk a more traditional Holiday card?) Many people look forward to receiving, reading and catching up with family and friends through this long-standing tradition. (It dates back to the 1800’s!) Growing up, when we were finished reading a Christmas card we would tape it to the wall and by the time Christmas arrived the whole living room felt like festive wrapping paper. At indelible, we hope this tradition continues for many more decades!

We also believe that there are a few people in your life that could use a little more than a generic Christmas card this year. The printed Christmas card is great to reach the masses, but a more personal handwritten letter is appropriate for those who hold a special place in your life. Here is a list of people to consider handwriting a Christmas card to this year.

Those Hurting

For some, the Holidays is actually a difficult time of year. Whether they are dealing with the recent loss of a loved one, sickness, or significant life change, sitting back and watching others celebrate the season while they hurt can be depressing. Who do you know that might fit into this category? Do you have a grandparent who just lost their spouse, or a friend who came down with a serious illness this year? Choose someone that could be struggling this year, and send them a handwritten card. Let them know that you care about them and they are not forgotten. This simple act could provide the joy and hope they are seeking this Christmas.

Those Away From Home

Being away from family and friends at Christmas can be a real challenge. Some have no choice due to Military duty, sickness, money or a new job.  They have the desire to be home, but instead will spend it in a new and potentially lonely place. Letting that person know that they are remembered and are loved from afar will go a long way in making their Christmas memorable.

Those Closest to You

As you gather with those in your life who mean so much, don’t forget the power of the written word. Gifts are amazing, and speaking words of love and affirmation are important, but if you write them down they will last beyond the moment. Handwritten cards can be kept and cherished for years, and are a special way to communicate this time of year.

There are many other people you could write this Holiday season, but start here and see where it leads. For tips on what to think about when handwriting cards, check out our blog. Or visit our site to schedule the cards you need this year.

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A President’s Letter

“For almost every influential man it seems that there is a published book full of letters that he wrote.” This has proven true for the generations of men who have held the position of Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America. Emails by senior leaders are rarely ever seen as positive, impactful encounters. But pouring over the handwritten notes and letters of a President has a long, prestigious history. There are many books containing the letters of our presidents, which help us better understand their lives and better see how the most powerful men in the world communicate with others to make their messages clear and memorable. A study of these letters gives perspective, but also a model of a gentleman conducting his business, personal, and family affairs.

President George H.W. Bush passed away on November 30th, 2018. He was 94 years old. President Bush spent the majority of his life in the service of his country. As with any politician, he was far from perfect and made decisions not all would find palpable. At the same time, he left a model of kindness, decency, and love of country over love of political party. After losing the 1992 Presidential Election, President Bush wrapped up his work in office and began the transition to the President-Elect William Clinton. As with many elections, the fight for the presidency had been fierce with each man debating for his ideals, his vision of the future, and his ability to provide leadership. In the end, Bill Clinton prevailed over Bush. President Bush began the transition to make sure the Clinton administration could take on the role of leading a nation with as much ease as possible.

On Inauguration Day, January 20th, 1993, George H. W. Bush left a handwritten letter for President-Elect William Clinton. It was a letter full of grace, decency, and love of country, which Bush ended with the words, “Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” This note left an indelible impact on Bill Clinton, and even us today as we look back on how to put aside our differences and root for the success of others.

Read the full letter:

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck—

 

George

George H. W. Bush Letter
This image provided by the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum shows a note written by George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton. (George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum via AP)

A few books containing Presidential letters:

FDR: “F.D.R. His Personal Letters 1928-1945”

Ronald Reagan: “Reagan: A Life in Letters”

Truman & Churchill: “Defending the West”

Thomas Jefferson: “Thoughts on War and Revolution”

Abraham Lincoln: “New Papers and Letters of Lincoln”

Barack Obama: “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters”

 

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Tips for Writing Letters

One of the biggest hindrances for people when it comes to writing letters and notes is the idea that they don’t know what to write. Writing can be an intimidating experience, especially for those who are just starting their handwriting journeys. However, this is not as difficult as you might think, and with just a little practice can become second nature. Here are some tips to help you start communicating with handwritten letters.

Be Authentic

For some reason, many people change their language and tone as soon as they pick up a pencil. They think they need to use words and sentences that they would never speak in the real world. If you have relationships with the people you are writing, they like and appreciate you for who you are as a person. They will quickly be able to see through an insincere note, be confused, or doubt the author of the letter. If you don’t talk and write like William Shakespeare, then don’t suddenly try to be him. It won’t go well for you! Use the typical language, tone, and demeanor that you speak and communicate with on a daily basis. These characteristics play a huge part in what makes you, you. This mindset should ease the tension when you sit down to write because there is no pressure to be something you are not.

Put in Some Thought

Just because you should be yourself when you write, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be the best version of yourself. Put some thought into what you are going to say. Ask yourself why you are writing the note, what you want to communicate through the letter, and what is the best way to put these ideas into words. Taking a few minutes to work through these questions will go a long way in giving you direction to write the most impactful note possible, which is the goal. Don’t just wing it. Best case scenario is you send someone a decent note, but worst case is you offend or annoy someone you care about.

Write a Rough Draft

Initially it might sound like writing a rough draft will make the process much longer for you, but in many cases it will help you be more efficient. We have all looked down at a card after making a writing mistake and tried to decide if we were going to scratch through and continue or throw out the card and start over. Don’t waste the quality stationery and cards you purchase with simple and avoidable mistakes. Grab a scratch sheet of paper or pull out your laptop and quickly type what you want to say. Make the mistakes there, and then simply copy your final version onto the card. This extra step will eliminate mistakes and allow you to craft a final version that will make you proud.

If you follow these basic guidelines, the handwritten letter will become less intimidating and quickly become a routine and influential part of your life. If you aren’t convinced that handwritten letters are important, read our previous blog here to better understand why this form of communication matters.

Leave your mark.

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Thanksgiving Card Ideas

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with friends and family, eat a lot of food, and, most importantly, remember and be thankful for the many blessings in your life. Every family has unique traditions to celebrate the season and to share what causes them to be thankful. However, most of us are not great at communicating to those we love how thankful we are for them. On top of that, these special moments are often lost over time. One of the best ways to truly communicate what you want to say, and to have it last is to write it down on a Thanksgiving card. Here are some tips on who you could write to and what to write this holiday season.

Thanksgiving Card | Indelible Cards

Who

Who should you give a Thanksgiving card? We would never discourage anyone from sending handwritten notes, so here is just a starting point for people in your life that deserve to be recognized on Thanksgiving.

Distant Relatives: As you gather around the table with family, let those whom you are not able to spend time with know that you care about and are thinking of them on this holiday.

Significant Other: Communicating your thankfulness to those closest to you never happens as much as it should. Take this opportunity to communicate your love for them in a handwritten note.

Friends: Do you have friends that are like family? Thanksgiving is a great time to let them know that all they do for you does not go unnoticed.

Co-Workers: How about co-workers that either have become friends or who do a lot to make you look good? Tell them you care and are grateful for all they have done to help you succeed.

Parents: Can we really ever tell them “thank you” enough?

What

Sometimes getting started on what to write is the most difficult part. Here are a few options to consider that should help you begin writing your Thanksgiving cards.

Be Specific- This is a chance to tell them what it is about them and their lives that causes you to be thankful. Refer to a specific event where they helped you or tell them which of their characteristics have impacted your life. Being specific will be more impactful than a typical “thank you.” It will show the recipients you put thought into the cards and really care about them as individuals.

Make a List- An easy way to be specific is to list all the things about the person you are thankful for. Something as basic as “10 things I am thankful for” allows you to be sincere, lighthearted, and gets your point across. This is just an option, but can be a variation from the typical greeting card and help your message be memorable.

Add a Quote-At Indelible Cards, we strongly believe in the handwritten note and not just signing your name to the bottom of a scripted card. However, sometimes you need a little help and adding a Thanksgiving quote to your note can be a great addition.

How

We have written more details on Tips for Writing Letters, but to recap here are three things to consider.

Be Authentic-No need to try and write like someone else. Being yourself is what helped form this relationship and will make the card genuine.

Put in Some Thought- Determine what you are trying to say before you start writing. This discipline will help you create the best letter possible.

Write a Rough Draft-Pulling out a scratch sheet of paper or laptop to jot down your ideas before writing on the card will save time and create a better final outcome.

If sending Thanksgiving cards is not something you have historically participated in, you will not regret spending a few minutes this holiday season letting those close to you know that you are thankful for their lives. These tips should be a great launching point toward this meaningful experience.

Leave your mark. 

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Why A Handwritten Letter Matters

We live in the most connected time in human history. We can reach people all over the world on our cell phones, text with friends and family at any time, day or night, view pictures and updates on social media, and watch world events happen live on our TVs. Our global economy allows us to move all over the world for exciting jobs, and to vacation in the most exotic places imaginable. Yet with all of this access and travel, many people feel more isolated and lonelier than ever.(2018 Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index)

There are many reasons for this issue, and even more steps we can take to combat loneliness. But because of this epidemic, we believe that a handwritten letter is more valuable than ever. Some people might think that writing letters is old-fashioned and outdated. Why spend the time when you can send a quick text, “like” a post, or write a brief “Happy Birthday!” on your friend’s wall? But that is the point. Those impersonal gestures, although well-meaning, do not create the connection so many people desire.

There is something special about opening up your mailbox and receiving a handwritten letter. You then take the time to sit down, open the card, and read words that someone focused toward you. It is a form of communication that cannot be replicated digitally. The Art of Manliness discusses the uniqueness of a handwritten letter so well: “Ink from your pen touches the stationery, your fingers touch the paper, your saliva seals the envelope. Something tangible from your world travels through machines and hands, and deposits itself in another’s mailbox. Your letter is then carried inside as an invited guest. The paper that was sitting on your desk, now sits on another’s. The recipient handles the paper that you handled. Letters create a connection that modern, impersonal forms of communication will never approach.”

Creating that connection and emotion with another person is something we all aspire to achieve. Here are a few reasons putting pen to paper matters and will reach people in a way that digital communication just can’t compete against.

Strengthens Relationships

When was the last time you received a handwritten letter? Think about how you felt in that moment and your appreciation for being noticed, but also your appreciation for the person who wrote you the note. When letters are exchanged, relationships are strengthened. Not only do the recipients feel the love through the words written, but the authors’ gratefulness for the recipients grows as they think through their interactions and experiences together. Sometimes all we need to do is disconnect for a few minutes to remember experiences, stories, disagreements overcome, and words exchanged with our loved ones to truly understand their impact on our lives. When you spend the time to let them know what they mean to you, your relationships will be strengthened.

Leaves a Mark

I realize that our emails, posts, and texts are all saved in the “cloud” somewhere and are kept forever. There is, however, something special about a physical card that can be held and kept as a record in time. We have all heard stories of love letters being exchanged across years, and how they were kept in boxes in closets or under beds. Handwritten letters are something tangible that can be brought out during difficult, lonely, or even happy times in our lives to remember a specific point in time, or a relationship we will cherish forever. They are also history that can be passed down to the next generation, to share with them our pasts and those who mean so much to us. Handwritten letters leave a mark that cannot be erased.

One Chance

We get one life and one chance to impact people’s lives. At the end of the day, you will be remembered for how you treat those around you and what you do with the gifts you have been given. Don’t regret not telling them how much they mean to you, and impact others though your handwritten letters. We don’t know when our last holiday or birthday with a loved one will be celebrated. Take time this year to put pen to paper and let those you love know how they have changed your life.

This holiday season test our hypothesis…handwritten letters matter. Instead of signing your name to the bottom of a prewritten card, sit down for a few minutes and put pen to paper. Let those closest to you know what they mean to you. Leave a tangible history of your relationships, and don’t ever regret not telling them how you feel.

Leave your mark.

Man writing a handwritten letter in office | Indelible Cards