A Word About Those Knives

“Steak knives!  What are we supposed to do with them?”  The Lovely Lady has opened up the mountain of packages which arrived today from our shipping box supplier.  One box contained a free gift from them, a reminder that we had spent a fair amount of money for the dwindling mountain of packages.  The company gives small, useless items as thank-you gifts if you only spend a small amount.  You have to spend a really large sum to get a large, useless thank-you gift, such as these knives.  “Oh, well,”  I remarked morosely.  “If we ever eat steak again, we might use them.”  My doctor has declared red meat off limits for me for the foreseeable future.  I’m confident that the knives will remain in their box for a good long time to come.

What is it about inappropriate gifts which we receive from companies with whom we do business, anyway?  I think that, if the box company would offer a back support as a thank-you, it might make sense.  After unloading the pallet-load from the tailgate of the semi-trailer today, it would have been a welcome find for me.  Perhaps, the doctor’s office, instead of sending home candy with the kids, could send a small bottle of aspirin instead.  The gas station could dole out packages of wet wipes to clean the gasoline off of my hands, which invariably splashes up when I’m topping off the tank.  You know, to ease up to the nearest even dollar amount.  You wouldn’t want me to stop at $32.79, now would you?  Well…you get the idea and will, no doubt, think of a few more appropriate gifts to take home from your favorite vendor.

I remember, as a teenager, wandering through the county fair in the spring.  We called it the stock show, but it was the same thing as the county fairs that draw crowds every year all around the country.  I had blown my money on the midway and was reduced to wandering the exhibitions with my parents.  As we ambled past ladder salesmen and  fruit dehydration demonstrations, I noticed a contest box.  You know the type.  The box is covered with paper and there is a slot cut in the top.  Obviously, that slot wants a piece of paper to be inserted there, so I looked around for an entry.  I didn’t look far.  “Enter to win a FREE sewing machine!” shouted the cardboard sign nearby.  I grabbed an entry form.  Scribbling my name and address, I laughed as I dropped the tiny piece of paper into the box.  “I’ll never win.  I never win anything!”  Wandering off to the stock exhibits, where my brother was showing a hog, I promptly forgot about the box or the piece of paper.

A few weeks later, I received an envelope in the mail.  I never got personal mail!  It looked important, too.  “Mr. Paul Phillips” was the name above the street address.  Not “To the parents of…”, not even “To our friend at…”!  I opened the envelope carefully.  The letter looked official.  “Dear Mr. Phillips,  We are pleased to inform you that you have won…”  I shouted it out to the whole household, “I won!  I won the sewing machine!”  Sure enough, my name had been drawn to receive this machine, for which I had no earthly use.  I was excited regardless.  The red-headed lady used the sewing machine.  I could give it to her.  I didn’t even have it yet and I was giving it away!  No matter.  I had won!  But then, I read further on down the letter.  “Before you claim your free machine, you must purchase one of the following cabinets from our stock.  We cannot deliver any machine without the completed purchase of a cabinet.”  The enclosed catalog listed any number of beautiful wooden cabinets, ranging in price from two hundred-fifty dollars, up to over five hundred.  I was crestfallen, knowing that I couldn’t afford even the cheapest of the offerings, and also, by this time, being adamant that I would never give this crooked business even a dime of my money.  First they offer me this “free” item, which I am going to have to give away, and then they insist that I pay as much for a cabinet as any normal concern would sell the entire outfit for.  The light has gone on, as I sit glumly and consider how quickly my fortunes have turned.  I have learned a hard lesson about what motivates businesses and their owners to make offers which are too good to be true.

A friend posted a message last night on her Facebook page.  “Nearly 40 years into this thing called LIFE, I’m ACCEPTING the FACT that almost NO one does GOOD simply because it is RIGHT to do so.”  Her note goes on, exposing the pain, I suppose, of being disillusioned by someone in her life. But, whether a personal friend or a business associate, I don’t know.  There are no details, nor do I need any.  It is a disappointment shared by most of us.  When we trust people, we are doomed to experience discouragement as our confidence is shaken again and again.

Here’s the really bad news.  Our discouragement grows as we realize that most people function in much the same way as do we ourselves.  We are honest when it pays to be honest; loyal when it pays to be loyal; caring when it pays to be caring.  It is inherent in our nature to be self-centered and self-serving.  We talk of integrity, even embrace the ideal of a principled life.  But, when the situation merits it (in our minds, at least), we discard integrity and dump principles in favor of advantage.  Still, like the sewing machine company, we wish to appear beneficent.  Consequently, we weave webs of deceit, smiling at our friends (and sometimes our spouses), as we slide the knife into their backs.

How about it?  What is it (if anything) that will motivate us to do good simply because it is right to do so? I would submit to you that the answer is love.  As usual, it may be too simple an answer.  I stand by it, nonetheless.  I offer no other support than these words; “Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking…”  If our actions demonstrate these two qualities, we may be sure that love is not our motivation.  Period.

And trust?  What do we do about that?  Once again, I offer exactly the same answer and the following in defense of the concept; “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” We will, in life, be disappointed in our trust of others, again and again.  Still, we trust and we hope.  When we are hurt, we forgive.  And we go forward, in the company of other selfish, self-serving people who are just like us.  We go forward.  If we spend all our time looking back, we will see nothing but the missteps, the disappointments (both in others and ourselves).  The only way we will persevere is to go forward.

That same friend mentioned above recently posted this short comment of encouragement; “Love still conquers all.”  I don’t disagree.  But, as I consider, I realize that there is more.  Sometimes love simply wraps up its enemy in its arms and holds it close.  No winners–no losers.  “Love never fails.”

The package supplier will accomplish its goal, since I will buy more.  I understand exactly what their motivation is, but I still need their product.  Personal relationships are a bit more fragile.  Perhaps, we could work toward the goal of loving God and loving each other, instead of always working the angles for personal gain.  I know I’m going to try. 

In the meantime, I do have a really nice set of steak knives available, if anyone needs them.  

“And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva…So tweasure your wuv.”
(The Impressive Clergyman from “The Princess Bride” movie~USA 1987)

“Someone who thinks the world is always cheating him is right.  He is missing that wonderful feeling of trust in someone or something.”
(Eric Hoffer~American moral/social philosopher~1902-1983)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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