UJ says I always criticize our President — which I don’t believe is true — but in any case let me say something positive about his decision to sit down with Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley in an effort to put the Cambridge incident behind him. I don’t think that President Obama should have gotten involved in what is really a local matter in the first place, but clearly he had reached the point where he felt he needed to put this behind him and do something that looked like it brought closure. Having made that decision, the most effective mechanism was to sit down with the two parties face to face. The fact that President Obama did so over a glass of beer is not going to hurt his standing with middle America, either.
I firmly believe that some forms of communication are more likely to lead to compromise and resolution than others. In my experience, a face to face talk is best because people typically tend to temper their language in direct communications. When you are sitting across the table from someone, observing their facial reaction to your words, you will choose your words more carefully. You will recognize the person across the table is a human being with feelings, and most people don’t like to unnecessarily hurt other people’s feelings. So, instead of saying that the person across the table acted like a stupid jerk, you might say that their conduct was regrettable and led to misunderstanding. The element of disapproval is still there, but the tone is not so harsh — and in communications tone is important.
Face-to-face communications are at one pole of the spectrum of communication. A telephone conversation is next best, because you can hear how your comments are being received and react accordingly. At the other end of the spectrum is e-mail, where it is too easy to type an incredibly strongly worded statement in the heat of the moment and hit send, only to regret having done so almost instantaneously. People often will write something that they would never say to another person face to face. (This is why everyone should take a deep breath and pause for a sip of coffee before hitting the send button on their next angry e-mail.) It was a good move for President to set up the Sam Adams Summit rather than trying to resolve this particular incident by an e-mail exchange.