Mea Culpa

A few days ago, Linda from Santa Clara, CA contacted us and let us know about a problem with our “ship confirmation” email. We try to have some fun with these emails, and made a side crack about Hamlet being bi-polar. Linda correctly pointed out that there’s a great deal of stigma around mental illness, and that it is a poor subject to make light of. Here’s a snippet from the original email (written to you, the customer, from your book): 
I can’t wait to meet you! You sound like such a well read person. Although, I have to say, it sure has taken you a while! I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but how would you like to spend five months sandwiched between Hamlet (bipolar) and Fundamentals of Thermodynamics (pyromaniac)? At least Hamlet was an upgrade from that stupid book on brewing beer. How many times did the ol’ brewmaster have one too many and topple off our shelf at 2am?
Here’s the revised version. As an owner of a flatulent canine, I can assure you that he’s not offended. 
I can’t wait to meet you! You sound like such a well read person. Although, I have to say, it sure has taken you a while! I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but how would you like to spend five months sandwiched between Walter the Farting Dog (oh, the stench) and Fundamentals of Thermodynamics (pyromaniac)? At least Walter was an upgrade from that stupid book on brewing beer. How many times did the ol’ brewmaster have one too many and topple off our shelf at 2am?
Linda’s original letter:

 

From: Linda
Created: 1/19/2009 3:53:17 PM
To: Better World Books 
Subject: Mental illness – a poor subject to mock
 
Dear BetterWorld staff:
 
While I am certain that your email below was intended in a humorous vein, I have to express my considerable disappointment in your making light of mental illness.
 
I have bipolar disorder and am reasonably sure that my mother had it as well.  She, unfortunately, was not properly diagnosed, and committed suicide in January of 1987.
 
The following is taken from “emedicine® from WebMD: Bipolar Affective Disorder” and was written by Stephen Soreff, MD, President of Education Initiatives, Nottingham, NH; Faculty, Metropolitan College of Boston University, Boston, MA, and Lynne Alison McInnes, MD, Associate Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Genetics and Genomic Sciences, Department of Psychiatry and Human Genetics, Mount Sinai School of Medicine:
 
Mortality/Morbidity
 
Bipolar disorder has significant morbidity and mortality rates. In the United States during the early part of the 1990s, the cost of lost productivity resulting from this bipolar disorder was estimated at approximately $15.5 billion annually. Approximately 25-50% of individuals with bipolar disorder attempt suicide, and 11% actually commit suicide.
 
If I need to drive the point home further, perform this little test: line up a group of your friends or coworkers and have 1 in 4, or, worse yet, 1 in 2 step forward.  In total, they represent the ratio      of those who suffer from bipolar who will attempt suicide in their lifetimes.
 
It serves as a painful illustration that bipolar is an inordinately poor choice of maladies of which to make jest.
 
As much as I do love a good laugh, I would sincerely hope that you will revise your future shipping confirmations in such as way as to not belittle those who face the challenges of living with mental illness – not least of which is the stigma that mental illnesses are amusing – which they most certainly are not.
 
In the past, I’d recommended your services highly to friends and colleagues.  After receiving this email which perpetuates the stigma of mental illnesses, I regret having touted your services and philanthropic nature to people whose relationships I value.
 
Should you choose to make a public apology to your customers for this error in judgment, I will continue to do business with you.  Barring that, I will not only take my trade elsewhere, but will also notify my friends and colleagues of this less-than-amusing email and suggest that they also consider purchasing their books from other merchants.
 
Sincerely,
 
Linda
Santa Clara, CA
 

8 Comments

  1. It’s pretty awesome that you not only responded to Linda’s letter, but apologized. Some people might have thought she was making a big deal out of nothing, but mental illness really is a big deal, and too many people make fun and don’t understand. Thanks for your sensitivity and open apology.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more, Natalie.

    Yet again, BetterWorld is a champion of the less fortunate, making the world a better place for us all.

    I cannot thank you enough, Mr. Helgesen. You’ve proved that BetterWorld is a compassionate organization with the very best of intentions.

    Rest assured I will continue to patronize your website and spread the news about your endeavors to all my friends and colleagues.

    Sincerely,
    Linda
    Santa Clara

  3. I have to say, as unfortunate as this incident was in the start, it’s great when opportunities like these are taken advantage of. People are so oblivious to the struggles that the mentally ill endure, and incidents like this really show how deeply those stigmas against the mentally ill impact both their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

    Thank you so much Linda for taking a stand! It’s people like you, and organizations like BetterWorld who are, step by step, progressing the ever-growing movement against stigma. Keep being wonderful!

  4. I’m impressed with both parties here: Linda, who took the initiative to write and eloquently explain why she took offense, and Better World Books, who humbly apologized and edited the letter.

    I’ll admit that I found the letter hilarious when I received it — and completely skimmed over the part about Hamlet. Thanks to you both for the enlightenment!

  5. I’m glad this was resolved amicably! Good on you Linda for pointing out something that the rest of us would have just skimmed by. And BetterWorld, it looks like you’re living up to your name!

    As for the new letter, methinks the farting dog reference is so much funnier (and a book I’d like to have!).

  6. Pingback: I just can’t win | Better World Books Blog

  7. God Bless BWB…for ‘doing the right thing’!

  8. I’m relieved that BWB apologized and actually included the offensive email along with the altered, final email here on the website. I agree with Linda that mental illness is no laughing matter, and I commend her for taking a stand. I commend BWB for apologizing and correcting the problem as well. Good job!

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