Put Down The Hammer

photo-3[continued from BE WE]

The woman behind the counter at Starbucks, someone I’d never seen before, leaned forward, and chirped, “David! I loved your wedding!” She laughed at the look of confusion that must have crossed my face and added, “No, you don’t know me.” One of our invited guests brought her as a date. “Best wedding ever!” she exclaimed as Kerri joined us. Because the day is a blur, Kerri and I enjoy hearing people’s accounts of our wedding day and she enthusiastically told us of her experiences. It was nice. It was personal.

We took our coffee to a table and joined some friends. After a few moments, the woman behind the counter came to our table. She brought some samples, some health supplements and cosmetic products, “I only do this Starbucks job for the health insurance,” she said, “This is really my business,” she said, sliding the tiny packages in front of Kerri. “You never know who might be interested,” she chirped and blushed before making an exit. It was awkward. It felt awful. We went from personal to prospect in one inelegant step.

There is an old saying that came to mind: When the only tool you have in your box is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Many years ago, in a time of great financial desperation, I worked with some financial folks who recruited me to sell their stuff. I learned their processes, got my licenses in record time, and for a few horrid months, tried to sell their wares. I hated it. The work was highly profitable but the cost was highly destructive. Everyone looked like a prospect. To every social encounter, every friendship, every casual meeting, I brought an agenda. For a few months I looked through a lens that made every person, every circumstance, a commodity-opportunity. It reduced life (my life) to an ugly basic. It was toxic. Anna taught me the very appropriate word for what I felt: vampiring. It was a great lesson. It made me pay attention to the intention I bring to my life.

It’s what the woman at Starbucks felt, too. She was desperate. She, like a former version of me, sold the greater need to satisfy the lesser. Vampires are insatiable and stuck in an untenable lifeless-lens: everyone looks like a food source. Desperation is like that. It is easy when desperate to sacrifice friendships for prospecting. No one likes to be a food source.

As I perused this years bountiful crop of ugly images of Americans fighting and crushing each other for cheap toys and electronics, the annual product-stampede/people-crush-and-fist-fight on Black Friday (formerly known as Thanksgiving), I couldn’t help but think about the Starbucks lady. Desperation wears many masks but always makes others look less-than-human. Communities thrive when they feed each other and die when they feed on each other. This is not a mystery.

Commodity is supposed to service community, not the other way around. Vampiring is the only visible path when community loses itself to commodity; it inadvertently tosses away its many tools and leaves itself with only a hammer. It’s a question of order as much as a question of values. There is nothing wrong with commodity when the order of value is respected. Without a WE there can only be a very confused, desperate, and lonely I. It should not come as a surprise that desperate and lonely people do desperate and lonely things.

This is the season of the return of the light. We need do nothing more to create the miracle than put down the hammer and look at others as if they are more than nails.

[to be continued]

3 Responses

  1. I just awakened and read your post for today about focusing on the “we”. While reading it I became aware of a dream I had last night. In the dream I was in a group led by a priest. I was the only Jew in the group. At one point in the group’s discussion, the priest asks me for my thoughts. My response was that before Jesus died and became a religious focus we were all of the same religion (those who were monotheistic) and although we may have disagreed on how to practice that religion, our basic belief/value system was the same. But once a church began to form around the life of Jesus, the focus turned to our differences. The more entrenched the church became the more it was our differences that mattered, not our shared beliefs. It is the focus on those differences that has led to holocausts throughout the generations.

    We talk a lot today about how Christianity and Judaism come from the same roots. Although that may be true, after two millennia of pounding on the differences there are few who still see the “sameness”. In fact, when I was in Istanbul touring and learning about Islam I realized that Islam and Judaism seem more alike than Christianity and Judaism. The commonness that is the foundation of all three religions has been lost in service of focusing on the differences.

    Perhaps that observation applies to much more than religion. When we are laser-like in our focus on the “we” the “us and them” becomes meaningless. Can it be that we don’t want the “we” in our society – we aren’t comfortable with the “we” and only feel our identity by living out the “us and them”?

    Odd musings during the season of goodwill and holy days.




  2. Strong, and right on. Thanks for a clear summation of what I often see.

  3. I agree with you David wholeheartedly! As Tracy Chapman sings “All That I Have Is My Soul”. When we are desperate “Vampires”, we sell ourselves out. The impact this has on our self-concept usually results in shame and anguish. In the process, we lose friends and relationships that are really important to us. I’m sorry that you had this experience but glad that you realized what it was right away. Remember how difficult it is to redeem yourself after you’ve “sold your soul to the company store”, as Tennessee Ford used to sing.

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