Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

It’s a Favor Doing Business With You

with 13 comments

I encountered two incidents and a video this week. Even though the incidents are isolated, they illustrate a pattern that I am observing. The video nicely reinforces it.

No Job-hoppers

I attended a meeting where the speaker was a professional recruiter, commonly known as a headhunter. He recounted an experience where the client, who was seeking a person to fill a position, was very explicit about their desire to not bring in a person who had a record of switching from job to job. They wanted someone who had at least five years with the same employer.

Here’s the catch: the client was seeking to fill a four-month contract engagement. One-sided much?

So if you’re the person who has five years with the same employer, why would you leave to take a four-month contract? Given that you have wanted to stick around one company for five years, why would you be attracted to such a short-term opportunity? And, having taken the contract and completed it, would you not have ruined your record, so that the same company would not consider you for a further position because you no longer meet the qualifications?

Guess the Number I’m Thinking Of

I heard about this through a real estate agent who was representing the buyer. The agent had put an offer in on a house on the buyers’ behalf. The sellers’ agent says that the sellers do want to sell their house. However, the sellers’ agent indicated the offer was not acceptable, but in no specific aspect. The buyers made a full price offer, so we can eliminate the “insulting offer price” excuse. The seller’s agent refused to clarify what would make the offer acceptable, and unequivocally stated that the sellers would not respond with a counteroffer, because “they are not putting their signatures on an offer.”

How does a real estate transaction come to completion under these conditions? For a seller who is reputedly motivated, this sure doesn’t look like the behavior of someone who wants to go to contract. Do the sellers and their agent expect the buyers to throw contracts at them until they happen to get it right? What buyers would be stupid enough to engage in this? Maybe the buyers’ agent should deliver the offer with a fruit basket and implore the sellers to find the offer worthy of consideration, like an ambassador to a Renaissance prince. Be careful not to turn your back to the sellers as you bow and scrape your way out the door.

The Pattern

The pattern that I am seeing is one of people doing business in an increasingly one-sided manner, with no thought for how their conduct comes across to the other party.

Allothetic Viewpoint

Allothetic Viewpoint

A young child has an ideothetic view of the world; he sees himself as the only subject. He is the center of his universe. Only he has needs, wants and plans. Everyone else exists only to fit into these needs, wants and plans. When they fail to do so, they are defective, useless jerks.

By the time the child becomes an adolescent, his worldview should have become allothetic. He should be capable of seeing other people as players with their own goals and desires that they wish to fulfill. He should know that, in order to realize his plans in cooperation with others, he must account for their plans and offer the others a chance to realize them.

Which brings us to the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmpYnxlEh0c

It is an excerpt from a speech David Foster Wallace gave to the graduating class of Kenyon College in 2005.  Without using the ten-dollar words, he calls for an allothetic worldview:

The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of
choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

Becoming an adult only requires time; all you have to do is stand there and get old. Growing up is a choice, and requires hard work. Not everyone wants to do it.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, the problem is I am also building thinking habits. Before long, I am also thinking this way when selling a house or when hiring.

I’m not saying that you have to give away the store to the person you’re doing business with. I’m saying that you should think about why the person in front of you should want to talk to you, to work for you, to do business with you.

I have known salespeople who had signs on their walls that said, “I can get what I want by helping other people get what they want.”

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Written by srojak

May 17, 2013 at 12:06 am

Posted in Business, Ethics

Tagged with ,

13 Responses

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  1. Excellent post. It really made me think, you post plus the video. Nice speech by Wallace, though I think he is wrong on some very important points. As a Christian I am often accused of being brainwashed. My question is, who’s to say which one of us is really brainwashed. What is the reference point of “normal thinking” that I must deviate from that qualifies me as “brainwashed”? Of course I admit that I actually am brainwashed. I brainwash myself. I work at indoctrinating myself to think a certain way; to see the world from a certain perspective, for I am convinced that all are brainwashed. The only question is by whom, and did we make that decision, or did someone else make it for us? Mr. Wallace, here, seems to be asking us to brainwash ourselves; to think a certain way, to actually consider the reality that we are not the center of the universe. I see that as a good thing, and in that respect I think this clip and his speech are challenging and thought provoking and excellent. But he seems quick to deny the existence of any transcendent or objective truth by which each of us might orient ourselves. There is no deeper meaning that transcends life itself. Personally, I think that is important if one is to actually have any measure of success in Wallace’s advice.

    I thought you might find a very similar clip interesting. Though I disagree with some of it as well; one aspect being that I don’t think we live in a world of victims for which we need to tap into our emotions to discover any willingness to consider. Still, it had a similar effect in that it challenged me to think about, and to be considerate of, others; and to not default to my natural inclination of feeling as though I am the center of the universe.

    Danny Wright

    May 17, 2013 at 8:37 am

    • Danny,

      The video is developed from an excerpt of the speech by Wallace, not the whole speech. The whole speech can be found here:
      http://web.archive.org/web/20080213082423/http://www.marginalia.org/dfw_kenyon_commencement.html

      The full text contains this, which is not part of the video:

      Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

      srojak

      May 17, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      • Hmmm, makes me wonder what Wallace worships.

        Danny Wright

        May 17, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      • Past tense, please. Now he knows.

        srojak

        May 17, 2013 at 10:39 pm

      • As I said, I liked his words, but I would say that the source of such sentiments must be found outside of us… lest they be nothing but words.

        Danny Wright

        May 18, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      • Everything you find in print or on the intertubes is nothing but words. You can accept it or dismiss it. The words become meaningful if and when you grant them meaning.

        srojak

        May 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm

      • You and I see things differently on that point I suppose. Words mean things. But if you are correct, Wallace must have not granted his own words meaning; which is sad I think.

        Danny Wright

        May 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      • I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.
        — Romans 7:15-19

        srojak

        May 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm

  2. Explanation?

    Danny Wright

    May 20, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    • Given that you identified yourself as a Christian, I thought you would recognize this. It is Paul’s statement of the human condition. We all fall short.

      srojak

      May 21, 2013 at 12:52 am

  3. I suspected that that was your point. I wasn’t sure.

    It is indeed a Christian doctrine that we all fall short, or fail. (Rom 3:23-24 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… NASU) The question man must ask therefore is not whether or not we all fall short, but how do we overcome our fallenshortness. We (mankind) find comfort, I think, when we compare ourselves to each other, especially considering that we are much more apt to overlook our own failings than those of our fellow man. But this is a vain comfort.

    Paul, on the other hand, is not comparing himself to other people, he is comparing himself to himself, and finds no comfort in his conclusion: “what a wretched man I am.” And then he asks the question of the ages: “who will save me from this body of death?”.(vs 24) The body of which he speaks is his own flesh, or sinful nature depending on the version.

    That’s one of the reasons that Wallace’s speech appealed to me, and perhaps why it is generally appealing. He illustrated this same struggle as he invites or challenges all to participate in a similar war with one’s own self within one’s own self; as Paul did. But Wallace’s call was empty. He provided no reason beyond one’s own self to goad oneself on in this war. He presented no ultimate reward or reason to battle it out in the trenches day after day. But Paul did. If you keep reading in the following chapter (8) you will note that he not only gives reason (“for I consider the sufferings of this present time not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us” vs 18) but he also points to a source by which one may wage this war (if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (vs 11 NIV)

    My point here is to reiterate my original point which was , “that the source of such sentiments must be found outside of us… lest they be nothing but words.”

    Danny Wright

    May 21, 2013 at 6:34 pm

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