My first year in business and already I was a failure. The man on the telephone was filling my ear full of his opinion of me and my business practices, and none of it was particularly complimentary. The words I heard were “liar”, “cheat”, and I think there might have been an “idiot” thrown in there, too. I was devastated. And confused.
A few weeks before, I had taken a keyboard in on trade from a local music teacher. I had allowed one hundred dollars on the trade, so that was the price I asked for the keyboard when it was placed on the floor for sale. The teacher had informed me that he had paid two hundred dollars for the instrument, so it seemed fair to offer him about one half of the new price for it. I did so without the aid of any “blue book” or other value appraisal. In the intervening years, I have learned that some of my biggest mistakes are made when I “fly by the seat of my pants”, rather than finding corroborating information to support my assumptions.
An interesting thought, flying by the seat of your pants. Originally used as a term to describe pilots who flew without the aid of a radio or instruments, it might have meant literally that when one felt the friction of the ground on the backside, it was time to pull up and gain a bit of altitude. It was a term used to describe Douglas Corrigan, a pilot in the 1930s who gained notoriety for filing a flight plan for Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and instead, ended up in Dublin, Ireland. He’s known to us today as “Wrong Way” Corrigan, one of the most infamous of the “fly by the seat of your pants” pilots.
I felt like “Wrong Way” something, but I certainly wasn’t deserving of the excoriating language being directed at me now. The man had come in and purchased the keyboard, perfectly happy to buy it at the same price I had allowed for a trade, leaving a trade-in item of his own and only paying a fraction of the cost in cash. I thought the transaction was complete until he telephoned the next week. It seems that he had found the same keyboard (now discontinued and being sold on clearance) at a shop in another town at less than my price. Only, this one was new. He was livid! I was in his sights! And, he pulled the trigger.
I did the only thing that I knew to do. As calmly as I could, I told him that I had priced the instrument in good faith and he was welcome to bring it back and I would return his trade and cash to him. He retorted that he would be in the next day and hung up without another word. I nervously awaited his arrival, which thankfully, came at a time when no other customers were present in the store (actually a very common occurrence in those early days). As I talked with him and made a receipt to document the refund, I tried once more to explain my quandary, but he was having none of it. “Fine. I’ll just call my lawyer!” I was standing in front of him with his cash and trade-in instrument ready to hand to him, but he refused to concede that I was acting as honorably as I could. I knew that he was a church-going man, so as he walked out of the store, I followed him to the door and suggested that as Christians, we shouldn’t leave matters in such a way between us and asking for his pardon, stuck out my hand to grip his in a handshake. Ignoring my hand, he stalked out, saying that he would never trade in this thieving establishment again.
I was crushed. And, still confused. My assumption had always been that fair dealing and a quiet answer would turn aside the anger and acrimony of any issue. I was doubly sure of that when we both shared the same faith. I was wrong. The depression I felt was palpable. The Lovely Lady knows when to leave me alone and this was one of those times. I moped for days before just sucking it up and moving forward. Even today, I still wish that the ordeal had ended otherwise. But, it didn’t. There has never been a reconciliation.
It seems that there are just some people who want to bear a grudge. They know that they are right and cannot countenance a miscalculation by the people with whom they deal. I understand that; even understood it before this episode. I just don’t want to live in that world. It turns out that I do live in just that world. What to do?
I’ve come to the conclusion that I, at least, have to live my life with integrity. I will do my best to be aboveboard in all my dealings with my fellow humans, but more than that, when I learn of my errors, of my sins, if you will, I will make amends. The rest is up to those folks with whom I deal. How they respond, if I have done my part, is all on them. Forgiveness and reconciliation between humans is a two-way street that doesn’t just allow, but requires, traffic from both directions. I want the happy ending, the equitable outcome, but it’s not up to me. And, in the end, I can live with that.
Too heavy today? Well, I did preach at my church this past Sunday, so I must still be in that mode. At least, I didn’t tell you the corny joke about the shovel and the octopus. Pity the poor congregation! Anyway, I can promise you this; lightheartedness will come again, along with more preachiness too.
You’ll just have learn to take the bad with the good.
“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”
(Alan K Simpson~American politician)
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”