Wednesdays are my day off from Mr. Momhood. On Wednesdays my son goes to the day care that’s connected to the Supermodel’s school — partly so I can get things done that can’t really be done with a preschooler in tow (a surprisingly short list, actually), mostly so that my son can get more social interaction than he would at home with just me.
So in addition to a couple of errands I decided to follow up on an advertisement that I saw while watching football last weekend. There was a spot for Good Feet, a chain of stores that (among other things) makes custom-fitted arch supports for your shoes, and I noticed that they had a store here in Stockton. Due to having a left foot that is almost completely flat, I wore a custom arch support in my left shoe from 1986 until the thing disintegrated about six months ago. I’ve been trying various store-bought supports since then with minimal success, so I thought I’d go check these Good Feet people out and see what they had to offer.
Turns out, not as much as I’d hoped. Or maybe a lot more.
My visit there lasted a whopping twenty minutes, and was characterized by a salesperson who, though friendly enough, seemed committed to not offering me what I was looking for. First, he hedged about how well their supports would fit in the loafers I was wearing (he expressed his preference for athletic shoes). Then he said that they didn’t sell supports for just one foot, only pairs of feet, though I could “choose not to wear the right one” if I so desired. (Darn big of him to allow me that, don’tcha think? Especially since my right foot doesn’t need one — AND my left leg is slightly shorter than my right and thus needs the boost the support provides, while the right one doesn’t.) Finally, after measuring my feet (yes, both feet — he insisted), he brought out three pairs of arch supports, all of which either didn’t provide enough support for my arch or provided too much support in areas where I didn’t need it, thus throwing off my balance. And all the time he kept going on about my loafers. I didn’t see why that should be an issue, since my previous arch support fit just fine in loafers, dress shoes, steel-toed boots, sandals (with a rubber band to hold it in place) and anything else that I could actually get my left foot into.
Finally, seeing which way the wind was blowing, I graciously thanked him for his time, but expressed the view that his firm simply was not offering the product for which I was looking, and left. At no point did he seem especially disturbed about my departure, or even his potential loss of commission.
Thirty seconds later, I was back in my car when it hit me what had been going on in the Good Feet store.
The salesperson had been trying to get his customer (me) to conform to his product.
Think about that one for a second, and you’ll see the problem. Dude had a product, probably a perfectly good one for people whose feet aren’t as scrambled as mine. Dude was committed to the success of his product. Fine. But then, in came someone for whom the product was not a perfectly good fit. And that’s where things broke down, because, instead of trying to create a thing that would work for the person, Dude instinctively began to try and adjust the person to fit the thing.
And the only way that occurs is if Dude has decided, deep down, perhaps not even consciously, that the thing is more important to Dude than the person is.
This is not about Good Feet as a corporation — maybe I just got a bad salesperson, or one who was having a bad day. This is about people and things, and how sometimes we (by which I also mean, I) put them in the wrong order.
Folks complain about the growing culture of materialism in America, usually in reference to people’s obsession with money and possessions. But what is materialism? At bottom, materialism is the belief that nothing exists except what is physical. If that’s the case, then no physical object is inherently any more special than any other physical object, since they’re all just molecules anyway. A rock is no more special than a cat, or a car tire, or a human being.
But materialism never exists by itself, because people (the group that came up with the concept of materialism — score one for us over the car tires) need to be able to prioritize the things to which they pay attention. If you can’t do that, you pretty much go crazy from the overload of options. However, the philosophy of materialism doesn’t provide a sorting system, so the result is that everyone makes their own decisions as to what is important to them and how much. To reference the Book of Judges, everyone does what is right in their own minds.
The result is pretty much non-stop stress, a constant series of events where one person’s decisions on what is important clash with another person’s different decisions. That’s what happened to me this afternoon — my decision was that my needs (and the salesperson’s needs — after all, he would benefit from making a sale) as a human being were higher priority. His decision was that the arch supports his company made were higher priority than me getting what I was looking for or him making money off of providing me with it. The result was that nobody got anything they wanted — including the arch supports, which are just hunks of molded plastic and have no wants. The arch supports were the only ones that weren’t disappointed, I guess.
But let’s face facts — we’ve all done this. Each of us has had moments where we’ve decided that some thing — a car, a lawn, a temperature setting, a pet doctrine, whatever — is more important than some person — a mechanic, a neighborhood kid playing, a spouse leaving a door open, a fellow believer. When that person in some way negatively affected our thing, we made sure that person suffered. And in doing so, we felt perfectly right in our actions, puffing out our chests at how we deftly defended our thing from the depredations of that person.
And yet … if God created people in His own image, and allowed us to have things so they could be of help to us as people, which one should have priority? If, as Christians (and others) believe, people are eternal, destined for eternal life in heaven or hell, while everything else will be destroyed before the revealing of a new heaven and earth, then which should we be spending our time protecting and aiding?
I was thinking over this later this afternoon, while flipping through the Yellow Pages trying to find someone else who offers good sturdy arch supports (no luck so far), when I heard a thud of heavy plastic outside. I knew what the sound was, since earlier today I had rolled our garbage and recycling bins out to the street in preparation for tomorrow morning’s visit from the trashmen. That thud meant that someone from the local “underground economy” (read: a hobo) was going through our recycling, looking for cans and bottles.
I’m afraid I’m usually more than a disappointment to those folks, as we don’t drink a lot of soda in our house; most of what we put in that bin is paper and cardboard. In the past, I’ve had them come into my yard trying to search our refuse, and I haven’t reacted well. (Suffice to say that an aluminum softball bat and some forceful yelling have figured in on occasion.) Deep down, I knew I was acting like a nitwit — after all, if that stuff is so valuable to me, why am I throwing it out? But I hadn’t changed my behavior …
… until today, when the salesperson’s actions, and their implications, were still weighing on me. Before I could register a second thought, I was out the front door. “Hey, dude!”
The guy with the shopping cart looked up, probably wondering if I was going to start yelling. “Er, yeah?”
“Yeah, I’m always hungry!”
“Wait right there — I’ll be back in a minute.”
It actually took about three minutes, but I was able to send him off with a couple of salami-and-cheese sandwiches and an apple. I suspect it may have been the best meal he’d had in weeks.
Does this make me some kind of super-saint? Hollow laugh — I know me. But it was the logical response to that realization outside the Good Feet store. If people are what is most important, then we should treat them that way, If that means that things have to conform, then so be it. Or as Jesus put it, the entire law of God could be summed up in two rules: “Love God with all you have” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Didn’t say anything about the doctrine of the Trinity, determinism or free will, liturgy, buildings or when the Tribulation would occur. First, love God; second, love everybody else. That’s what God asks from us, and that — not all the objects and traditions we pile up around us — is what He’ll judge us on.
So now I sit typing at home, still with a cheap rubber arch support in my left shoe that is too soft, too small, and has the disconcerting habit of sliding forward in my shoe when I walk. But I guess it’s a small price to pay for a deeper understanding of God’s will.