I had a most unusual encounter in my driveway yesterday. As I turned the corner, you could hardly miss him: A stranger with a clipboard moving from one door to the next, though the knee-length plaid shorts and bowtie were more of an affront visually. As I stepped out of my car and gathered my bag and my violin from the back seat, I heard the neighbor across the street shooing him away. As I turned to face the house, …
“Hey, big guy!”
Over the years, the neighborhood seems to have become an open market for the door-to-door solicitors and evangelists. Today’s fare? Magazine sales…
… for the children.
Over the years, I’ve encountered the door-to-door “help send me to college” magazine salesmen, but I hadn’t heard the “for the children” pitch yet…
“I have a few minutes before I have to be in for dinner. Tell me more.”
The organization he peddles for, I’m told, gives the children a chance — children like him, deprived and disadvantaged, a fellow who tells me he was shot and had to learn to walk again — and the organization, one that would give someone like him a chance when others like McDonalds might not. So, might I not subscribe to some magazines my neighbors listed here have already done, showing their confidence and support, and then might I not receive a hand receipt just like this one on writing my check to this organization’s name, not to the salesman himself?
“I’m sorry, but I don’t need any magazines.”
The exchange continued, each of us taking information the other had volunteered, attempting to turn it to our own advantage, until:
“I’m sorry, but like I said: I don’t need any magazines.”
“Look, no one wants the magazines; support the cause.”
This fellow told me he could continue to press well past when my dinner would become cold. It seems I didn’t have to tell him that I was willing to chat with him all evening, but who knows how many easy sales he’d miss that way? He left…
… but not before this: “I like you. I like your spirit and you’re clearly talented. Have you considered how much better you’d do for the children if you were selling something that we needed?”
“This organization gives folks like me a chance.”
“Have you considered how many of these people you could help if you hired them and sold something people wanted?”
He wasn’t going to hear it. I told him that I would set aside the same amount of money as the cost of the subscriptions until he returned selling something we needed. He told me that he’s not coming back. So that was that. I went inside and we took care of the children.
I’m not sure there’s anything fundamentally special about the encounter except in review: After all, it’s well understood that people sometimes aren’t purchasing what they’re actually buying or selling what they’re offering, and there’s nothing unusual about building connections and appealing to sympathies to gain advantage. So, what must have been on my mind for me to have responded as I did? What did the exchange fish out?
What are your thoughts?