Underwear Enclosed… No, Really
It’s not every day someone sends you underwear. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of fundraising packages I receive annually, this one from the Southwest Indian Children’s Fund is a hands-down standout.
I have bins full of T-shirts and umbrellas and fleece blankets and teddy bears and all sorts of pens and pins and what-nots in addition to heaps of non-premium mail. But until that fateful day, no one had ever sent me underwear.
It arrived in a 7.5-inch-by-10.5-inch canary outer envelope with a handwritten teaser: “Underwear Enclosed.” How could anyone resist opening it?
So many aspects of the package are brilliant. But beginning with that teaser, it’s also a lesson in the nuance of language and how careful practitioners of our craft are mindful of words as triggers.
The four-page letter is on yellow, lined notebook paper — in a nice, large, legible “handwritten” font. The Johnson box reads, “When I first heard about Maria, her husband was gone. She was living in a shack. The family’s food consisted of dry cereal and noodles. There was little furniture. Her children didn’t even have underpants.”
Not “underwear” this time, like the teaser, but “underpants.” Think about that for a moment. Underwear. Underpants. A more specific word, and a potential trigger opening up a kaleidoscope of thoughts and conscious or unconscious responses for the reader. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not.
Be aware of triggers
“My Dear Friend,” the letter begins. “By mailing these brand-new, spanking-clean underpants, it is the best way I know to convince you that your kindness translates into real, tangible help for one Native American Indian child in desperate need.”
So they’re not just any children’s underpants. No, they’re brand new, spanking clean. Wow. Not a potential trigger there — it’s the real deal.
And this letter talks a lot about underpants. There are only a few paragraphs where the word or one of its variants does not appear at least once. They are “a personal gift from you to one Native American child in need … your name and gift will help provide one child clean, new, respectable underpants.” Respectable is good, as is “giving a poor child the dignity of clean, warm underclothes.”