In the introduction to his devastating book of social criticism, House of Intellect, Jacques Barzun said he would attack only the best society had to offer—not the worst. “In a critical description of this sort, only examples of the best have any probative value,” he wrote. “The worst and even the mediocre must be taken for granted as a cultural constant.”
Generally, we agree with that philosophy and over the years we’ve tried with moderate success to follow it in our critiques of organizational communication. But every once in awhile a piece of communication comes along that’s so bad that it’s a potential revealer of what good is. That is, it is so perfectly bad as to be the precise flipside of good.
This is the sort of communication we received last fall, in an e-mailed job query from a student at a large Midwestern university. We have agonized over whether to publish it. All right, we’ve always known we’d publish it—concealing the sender’s identity, of course—but we’ve agonized over how long to wait.