“Eighty dollars for the guitar and twenty for the amplifier. That sound all right to you?” Once again, I’m bargaining with a young man for an instrument that I don’t really want, but he needs to sell. He’s the third person in my store today with something to sell, not because they’ve decided to quit playing music, but because money is tight and they need to come up with the cash to take care of “living expenses”. The mom with her toddler who was here earlier had a similar problem, but she also brought me a dilemma, along with the guitar case and guitar shaped object (GSO) she carried. You see, I’ve promised never to put any of that brand of instruments on my rack again, simply because I don’t think they’re quality guitars. Oh, a few of the specimens are okay, but overall, they seem to have a multitude of inadequacies, which I cannot overlook and will not foist off on my customers. What to do?
As you might expect, a few dollars lighter in the bank account, the business now owns this cool looking guitar, which sports a facsimile of the semi-semi-noteworthy guitarist/pitchman in his flat black bolero hat, who hawks his inferior wares on your television set. I’m not a fan. He claims to play the guitars he sells, but if the secondhand examples which I have seen are any indication, my guess is that most mediocre guitarists wouldn’t keep one of them for long, much less a professional, such as he claims to be. I’m not surprised to find that his claims to fame (e.g., student of one of the greatest classical guitarists in our time, Andres Segovia and endorsed by the same) are disputed by many experts in the field. I’m even appalled by the price people fork out for a barely adequate instrument, only to find that it has plunged in value from the moment it left the warehouse.
But, the absolute affront, in my consideration, is that the man’s real name (first and last) is actually the same as my given name, Stephen Paul. I might be able to forgive the man for selling a cheap product for too much money, but to have the same name on top of that, well…Words fail me.
Having wandered far afield, I’ll make my way back toward my original subject and say that I’m faced almost daily with judgment calls like this one and many which are more confounding. One gentleman came in with a similar dilemma (a guitar brand that was taboo) and then added to that by telling me that the tight spot he was in came because of a late night visit to the casino after imbibing a bit too much alcohol. I’m still ruminating the wisdom of my decision as I also ponder how to market the other GSO that now sits in my back hallway. If any of you readers have the solution to either problem, I’d love to be let in on the secret.
But, my real target tonight is integrity. I mention the huckster to set the stage. This play of life in which we are all acting often surprises me, sometimes in a wonderful, positive way, but often recently, with gloomy and unfortunate situations. The gentleman I first mentioned who had the guitar and amplifier to sell, quickly agreed to my price. One hundred dollars was fine with him. As I prepared to pay him, I happened to think that the wholesale blue-book might show the amplifier to be worth a little more than my offer, so I suggested that I should check the value. As I started my search, I heard, without it really registering, the muttered words, “Yeah, you wouldn’t want to pay too much.” Then, I found the amp model in the list and noticed that it recommended paying thirty dollars for this particular unit. I returned to the customer and told him that I would pay him ten dollars more than originally agreed upon and his reaction was one of complete surprise. He had expected a reduction in my offer, not an increase. After he received payment, he shook my hand vigorously, and thanked me profusely for being fair with him.
As he left, I was struck by the incongruity of his muttered statement as I searched for the price, with his effusive praise for my fairness in the transaction. Why should he expect that I was going to back out of our agreement to his detriment? Was it just a natural cynicism or was it a reaction programmed by experience? Isn’t it true that in our society, we expect to be cheated and taken advantage of? The huckster sitting center stage and strumming the inferior product, that is less in quality than it is touted to be, is the rule (or at least the perceived rule) and not the exception that it should be.
We are pleasantly taken aback by a business or individual who is honest and forthright, while acting almost dispassionate about chicanery. This ought not to be. Integrity should be the standard in our dealings with each other. It’s about time that the players who are center stage in this play should be the heroes and not the villains.
I have a favorite car lot with which I try to do business whenever I’m looking for a vehicle. The reason? Several years ago, they sold my father-in-law a car. No, not a car, a lemon! For a full year, he paid for repair after repair and finally took the car back to trade in on a different one. Upon hearing of his experience with the vehicle, the owner of the car lot gave him, in trade, not only the full price he had paid originally, but all of the additional amount he had spent on repairs in the intervening time. Now that’s integrity! And that’s the kind of business I want to trade with.
Ten dollars difference. That’s all it took for me to act with integrity today. Sometimes honesty costs dearly and other times, it’s as easy as just doing the right thing. Both of them, the large and small choices, are what make up a life of integrity. “Choose you this day whom you will serve…”
“No amount of ability is of the slightest avail without honor”