This week as I met with a major insurance company in New York, I thought of the joke about the German encyclopedia where all of the verbs are in the last volume. It’s a linguist’s joke. Big hit at Goethe conferences. The point is that everything comes together at the end. The punch line, that is.
The punch line in negotiations is being able to walk away. But you have to mean it. You can’t bluff. You have to be able to leave the table without having accomplished anything. When I was selling cars (yet another Nine Lives story–I’ve got a million of them), they used to tell us to get the customer to “lick the paint.” That meant getting the customer hooked on the enamel finish, leather interior, and temperature-controlled car seats so that they would be incapable of walking away from the deal. The deal, of course, was the dealer’s deal.
Since then, I have discovered that most things in life are the dealer’s deal. I have also discovered that not only do we not need temperature-controlled car seats and the like, but those things end up owning us. If we can resist them, we will spare ourselves a lot of pain and aggravation, not to mention time wasted chasing someone else’s dream. It’s even worse than that, because it’s not just a matter of living another’s dream but of handing over power to them.
The moment you put yourself in a position of want or need, you’re done for. Capitalism’s disguise of this with “consumer-oriented” goods and services and flashy techno-jargon is just that: a disguise. It’s handing over power on a grand scale. Apple is the worst offender here, cool as they are.
Don’t get me wrong. I am in favor of open markets and the division of labor. How many of us could supply our own food, let alone Internet service? But these must be used as means toward a greater end, not the other way around, which is why I object to the term, “Human Resources.” I am not your resource. I am not your machine. Aristotle said that, “the slave is a living tool in the same way that a tool is an inanimate slave.” Ancient Rome was built by living tools. Modern Rome is being built by human resources. Ecce globalization.
This is about ego and the spiritual battle to limit it in such a way that people can live freely. Freedom is an easy concept to grasp; it is much harder to achieve. But it can be won if we decide not to be used as tools, if we give up those wants and needs we believe to be real but aren’t. I am not talking about true human suffering but selfishness, which is fueled by fear.
Ignatian spirituality includes indifference, which is a way of not caring about car seats so that we can be present to the real world of relationships. I am no expert here, but isn’t the problem with relationships that we treat them more like car seats than things that matter?
Indifference is caring about things that matter. I don’t need a pre-warmed car seat. Do I need a contract with the insurance company? Yes, but if it does not come through, something else will take its place. Dealers, whether insurance or automotive, do not have the last word. God does.
That’s why I am free to walk. And why walking sets me free.