Matter of Values

Clifton Meek

The other day an advertising salesman called, wanting to sell me space in his publication. He was just trying to make his living, so I listened patiently to his preliminary sales talk. As soon as I could get a word in, I said:

"I am sorry, but I don't advertise."

"What! You mean to say you don't advertise? Then how do you stay in business? What's wrong with advertising?"

"Well," I explained, "things seem to have worked quite satisfactorily for twenty-five years. No, I haven't a thing in the world against advertising, but I happen to have all the business I can or want to handle, so why should I spend money for something I don't need or want? Would that be good business?"

"It's obvious to me," the young man replied, "that you've given the matter no serious thought. Why, the complexion of business has changed tremendously in recent years. It isn't like it used to be when the old village blacksmith had a little shop under a nice shady tree. Business has become a science; and if you want to stay in business today where competition is keen you've simply got to know something about production methods, methods for increasing sales, and heaven knows what else. Let me show you: here's the first step. If you had more business through increased sales, you could put on help, couldn't you? Surely that is simple and logical enough to understand."

"I understand it perfectly, only I don't want to put on help."

"Well, don't you want your business to grow and expand? The more business you do, the more money you make. Doesn't that make sense?"

"Not to me. I like it just as it is. Maybe I'm not making a lot of money, but I'm happy and enjoy my work — the only thing that makes sense as far as I'm concerned."

"Listen, Brother. You're no business man at all! Supposing our big industrialists had taken that attitude, where in — "

"But I don't want to be a big industrialist. That's all right for them, they're living the kind of lives they want. And that's exactly what I'm trying to do with mine. I've never claimed to be a business man — just a craftsman, I hope. Maybe I am just a dumb, country blacksmith under a shade tree, but I like it."

"I guess you just don't get what I'm driving at. You could develop this little set-up here — I admit it's very nice as far as it goes — into a fine thing instead of plugging alone as a little, one-horse outfit. You could do a thriving business and have, say fifteen or twenty employees working for you. You could make money, and then retire and travel."

He was a good-hearted fellow, but somehow he couldn't see that the changes he kept suggesting were no improvement, and that the more he talked, and the more persuasive his argument, the firmer would I cling to what I have found to be the real values of life. He was trying hard to knock some 'sense' into me, and as I listened to him, I couldn't help wondering if perhaps I shouldn't try to touch off something in him which would enable him to appreciate my viewpoint just a little.

Finally, I said: "Well, haven't you forgotten to mention a few other 'blessings' that might accrue, if I followed your advice? — such as headaches, stomach ulcers, heart trouble. You see, as things are now, I have everything under control — no labor trouble, no management trouble, no customer trouble — and I do have a little time for something besides business and money grubbing, and that's the way I like it."

"But it wouldn't do a bit of harm to do a little advertising now and then and let folks know you're on earth."

I couldn't help but smile. "And just how did you find out I was on earth, in a little backcountry spot in New England?"

"Oh, a friend out in Detroit told me about your work. He's in the advertising business like myself. Said you made a lot of stuff for his new home. You certainly have a satisfied customer there, and he's plugging your line to all his friends. It's just a shame that more people don't know about your work. What you need is a business manager. Here you are, stuck back in the woods off the main road, away from traffic."

The young man stopped. I guess the argument he had started with was getting a little threadbare, even to him. But on he went: "Surely a nice place to live, but for business purposes — well, it's just no good. No business man would pick a location like this in a thousand years. You should be out on the main thoroughfare. How in the world do people ever find you?"

"Oh, I suppose the same way you did."

Dead silence for a moment — then as suddenly, the salesman laughed. "You know, I wouldn't mind living in a place like this myself. The city is no place to bring up kids. Been thinking about it for a long time, but then there's the problem of a job. If I lived here I'd have to spend a couple of hours commuting every day."

He looked around the shop, and then out into the lovely hills. "Maybe you're lucky in a way. I've often wished I could get into something else — something like you're doing, where I could relax once in a while. Business has become such a rat-race today, such a dog-eat-dog affair. Why, you can't pick up the morning paper but you see where some big shot in his fifties has keeled over with a busted ticker. Just couldn't take it any more. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth the scramble. Maybe one day I'll make a change."

"I know just what you mean. That's why I did something about it years ago."

"Well, it's been nice meeting you, and I won't take up more of your time. I always like to hear the other fellow's viewpoint, even if I don't agree. Here's my card. Perhaps you'll change your mind some day and see things differently."

"Perhaps, but I don't think so. These funny ideas of mine are pretty well hammered into me by the forge of experience."

"Good luck, and so long. Better think it over — it might pay off." "Same to you. So long." — I guess I'm just not a business man!

(From Sunrise magazine, January 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)

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