Fundamentally, most of us want to be liked. We don't need to be loved per se--though perhaps some psychiatrists would disagree. We need to be in on the joke, picked first for dodge ball, someone that people want to high-five. This is, I think why salespeople can be so insidious. After all, they not only sell us things we want and sometimes need, but more importantly, they play to our most deeply rooted insecurities about our intelligence, our beauty, and our like-ability.
"I want you to know, Chuck," says Jim Bob as he sweeps his arm across the used car parking lot, "that we get a lot of folk in here lookin' to buy cars, but I can tell that you've got more business sense than most of them, so I'm going to make you a deal."
Or Marie at the cosmetics counter who compliments your beautiful eyes and tells her comrade-in-arms, Jameka, that she wishes she had your eyelashes. Jameka, of course, agrees enthusiastically.
A few salespeople might tell you that relationships are a key part of their business--that without trust and mutual affinity they would not be as successful as they are. It's not about the numbers, they say, it's about the difference their product can make in the lives of people they care about.
Imagine the time you could save and spend with your family if you purchased Ginsu knives or used the Hawaii chair to exercise while at work!
Speaking of late night television infomercials....One late night at my mother's house in Ireland, I was flipping channels because I wanted to avoid "The Mighty Boosh." I get a headache after watching that show--too much existentialist, surrealist, da-daist nonsense for a Britcom.
There are children dying of hunger in Ethiopia and Ireland--former Celtic Tiger and one of the richest countries in Europe--has an entire channel devoted to selling greeting card making kits! ((I have since been corrected that this channel comes from England, but nonetheless...)) Someone has invested potentially hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of pounds in staff, equipment, rent, and merchandise just to sell CDs with graphics on them and packages of fancy paper.
And so...back to my darkened room, I was surrounded by books, had a radio, and even could simply look outside my window to contemplate the moon's reflection on Youghal Bay. But I was transfixed by the people on the telly, so happy, so calming, so carefree. In their world, Ethiopian children don't exist...just the smaller every day problems of remembering Aunt Tabitha's birthday and determining what this year's Christmas letter should be printed on.
It may sound morbid, but I've often wondered if I were ever hospitalized for long periods of time whether I would become addicted to euphoria of QVC--the pleasant, blond people there who always have their nails done and seem to get along so well.
Indeed, being so insulated from the suffering of the world--perhaps from your own suffering--is a tantalizing proposition.
BUT--I'm not a lonely middle-aged woman living in a trailer with baked beans for supper whose alcoholic husband jilted her and who barely makes ends meet!
I have more for which to be grateful. I have a graduate degree, plenty of people I love and who love me--no alcoholic ex-husband--and thank goodness, enough food on my table and money in my bank account. Why am I not immune to the hard sell?
Am I fundamentally insecure? Do I need EVERYONE to like me? Or am I simply too passive, too easily sold something before I can firmly decline?
Some people say that prostitution is the oldest profession, but I think it would be more accurate to say sales is. Not to say that working at a gift shop is the same as selling your body. I know plenty of wonderful, genuinely good people in retail and I am sure there are many "fallen women" who have fewer character flaws than myself. But whether in a brothel in Nevada or a bookstore, most people have a dream larger than a lifetime at the till--even if that dream is being the head buyer for Gap or a regional manager for Borders.
I suppose my real beef is actually the relationship between consumerism and personal satisfaction--a problem that I think is considerably less worrisome in the slums of Venezuela or India. For those of us who have satisfied nearly all of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, there remains that elusive requirement for feeling whole--feeling worthy. And in America today, it seems we're more interested in buying that feeling than figuring out a way to feel it for free.