“Will you buy this French horn?” queried the middle-aged woman, obviously quite tense. “It’s a very nice, brand new horn, but my daughter can’t use it.” I’m always anxious to buy good quality wind instruments, especially horns, since my primary instrument is a French horn, so I took the proffered item to examine it. Within five seconds, I knew I wasn’t interested in this particular horn. Handing it back, I shook my head and told her I was sorry, but it wasn’t the kind of instrument I could sell to my clients.
Now visibly upset, she began to argue that the horn was new; she had just purchased it. Why wouldn’t I be interested in a perfectly good horn to sell in my store? I started to describe the bevy of inadequacies which had informed my decision, but stopped short. “Maybe you can tell me why you’re selling a new horn that you just purchased.” Sheepishly, she began to explain. Her daughter wanted a horn of her own, since the one which they were renting from the school was well past its prime. I’ve seen many such horns; victims of a succession of young teenage musicians. Let’s face it, I was one of those musicians at one time. The tussles in the band hall, bumps and scrapes from the marching field, and one too many falls off of the bleacher seats take their toll and the once pristine, gleaming instrument becomes a dented, patched, and tarnished albatross around some underclassman’s neck. This young lady had convinced her mom that her life wasn’t worth living unless she could have a shiny new horn of her own, so mom had done a little Internet shopping.
It was right there, waiting for her on the first page of the French Horn search results on the popular auction site. “Lacquered French Horn, German Engineered, Four Valve Professional Horn,” read the heading. The photograph showed a gorgeous, shiny instrument, ready to find a new home, all for the “buy-it-now” price of three hundred and ninety-five dollars. Never mind that the shipping was going to be sixty-five dollars extra. This lady was no fool! She knew that the music store was going to make her pay over two thousand dollars for a horn that looked just like that! She just couldn’t believe that those wheeler-dealers at the local shop thought she was that gullible. This keen shopper knew a good deal when she saw one and immediately clicked the button to end the sale and make this fine piece of German engineering hers. A couple of weeks later, the instrument arrived by mail ($65 for shipping by Parcel Post?) and her nightmare began.
The young lady for whom the purchase was made, snatched the horn out of the case, remarking as she did about the light weight of the horn. Then she noticed that there weren’t as many slides on this horn as on her old beater. It did have four valves, but they didn’t work the same as her school horn, each having a metal piece which directly connected the spatula keys with the valves instead of a string linkage. These clattered loudly when the valves were pressed, unlike the whisper quiet action of her old one. And, the fourth valve, which should have bridged the upper slides to the lower (non-existent on this horn), only worked a single slide. The fingerings weren’t the same because of this, making it impossible for her to play the scales as she was accustomed to doing. As if that weren’t enough, when she figured out the fingerings, the notes wouldn’t play in tune with each other. And the icing on the cake; right there on the valve casing underneath the keys, were inscribed the words “Made In China”. No! That wasn’t right! German, not Chinese! They said the horn was German! A call to the seller brought the answer. “German engineered” meant designed in Germany. It could have been manufactured in Saudi Arabia for all he cared. His advertising was accurate and there would be no refund. He said it was lacquered, that it had four valves, and that it was German engineered. All of those things were true. The term “professional”? I’m not so sure about that one. Regardless, the horn made its way to me.
I apologized that I would not be able to purchase the inferior instrument and left it at that, but she was not to be denied. “What am I supposed to do with this thing now?” she demanded. I politely told her that I didn’t know and apologized again; all the while, choking back the accusations that were ready to tumble from my lips. She knew it was a pile of junk and that she had been ripped off, but she was willing to have me purchase it; first lying to me as she told me it was a good, new horn – and even now when it was obvious that I wasn’t fooled by it, she would have been happy for me to defraud yet another customer as long as she got her money back. What was she thinking? But, the words remained unspoken and horn in hand she left, still disappointed with my refusal to be taken advantage of.
Did I feel sorry for the woman? Of course I did, but her willingness to commit the same fraud which had been perpetrated upon her was frustrating. Would I have been any more likely to buy the horn if she had been honest? Not at all, but that was completely beside the point. The old axiom “Two wrongs don’t make a right” seems to apply, but even that misses the mark. She wasn’t trying to make anything right. She was trying to pass the buck. She had been ripped off and wanted to get her money back, but instead of pursuing the individual who swindled her, she decided to perform her own little swindle on the local music store. She’s not the first one to try that, nor will she be the last. That said, I’m happy to report that most of the people I deal with are honest and straightforward. Happy, because I don’t ever want to have a cynical attitude about every person who walks through the door of my business.
This is where theory becomes reality, folks! When it costs us to keep our integrity in the real world…that’s when we see if we really believe what we claim to believe in the discussion groups, Sunday School classes, and as we instruct our children. I guarantee you, the girl for whom that horn was purchased knows what her mother believes. I’m sure that as she taught her daughter, she said something like, “Always be honest in your dealings with others.” What the girl learned from reality is, “Be honest when it benefits you. Otherwise, cheating is acceptable.” Which lesson do you suppose she’ll retain?
I’ve said before that integrity is doing what’s right, even in the dark. Integrity is also doing what’s right in the light of day, even when it costs us. Some lessons are clearly more expensive than others. But, failure to act with honor in all of our dealings may carry with it a price tag which is much higher than we are able to pay.
“Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honor, I lose myself.”
(William Shakespeare~English playwright and poet~1564-1616)
“The sure way to be cheated is to think one’s self more cunning than others.”
(Francois de la Rochefoucauld~French author~1613-1680)