Sometimes we choose to spare people’s feelings by not being completely honest. However, a painful revelation in some cases could spare them from greater grief down the road.
Last night two young men came to my door. They greeted me with firm handshakes, bright smiles, and scripted talk tracks that lilted with aplomb. They opened with questions of contrived curiosity to gauge my level of engagement. They shared their enthusiasm at having been given an opportunity to improve their lives, having been plucked out of the hopelessness of their deep urban upbringing and given a chance to earn an honest living.
I was proud of these young men for wanting to take their lives in a positive direction. I was pleased that they were willing to work hard to improve themselves. Unfortunately the honesty of the company for which they worked was questionable at best. These two unfortunate young men were unwittingly pawns in a scam which had visited my doorstep on a couple of prior occasions.
This particular sales call is part of an operation that is highly suspect and has been reported as fraudulent. Young people go door-to-door showing badges, licenses, or other credentials claiming authenticity. They offer magazine subscriptions for sale, and they are awarded points based on the level of sales they achieve. Their commission is based on the points they accumulate, which is intended to show their bosses their aptitude to apply themselves to improve their situation and prove their value.
After the first such solicitation we had received from a young man who had been brought here from a different part of the country to be given a chance for a “fresh start”, our willingness to help inspired us to purchase two subscriptions, neither of which we ever saw. A second visit from a different young man raised a red flag, so we did a bit of research. Seems these businesses are fly-by-night organizations that manufacture licenses and permits to look authentic, then recruit struggling young adults as sales reps through the guise of providing opportunities or a way out of their current situation. These less than scrupulous “companies” may withhold their reps’ earnings, or simply abandon the poor performers in the unfamiliar city or state into which they were transplanted for the job.
As these two nice young gentlemen continued presenting their spiel with a mongoose’s tenacity, I had to wrap up this party to get ready for bed so I started to put the chairs up on the table of this conversation. I wanted to send them on their way with a polite “no, thank you”, absent of any elaboration or defense of my decision. What I had hoped to avoid was being pressed into any explanation of my declining. I suspected that voicing my concerns about the organization for which they worked would inadvertently offend these young men, as they would interpret my concerns with their employers to say that they don’t have the insight to not see they are being taken advantage of.
So I did decline politely. The boys pressed. I declined again, and punctuated it by proclaiming that I would not change my mind and that I wanted to respect their time as well as mine. They did not have the same regard or respect and continued to press even as I turned to go back inside. The very thing I wanted to avoid was the very action I ended up taking. I explained that I was not comfortable with purchasing these magazines after what I had learned about this program in light of my previous experiences with their predecessors.
The offense I had anticipated they would take came to fruition. Their talk track took shades of appealing to pity, then guilt, until they left in anger, indignant with my unwillingness to help them in their aim for self-improvement, voicing these sentiments as they stomped down the stairs of my deck. I retired into the house a bit rattled. Did I behave like a cornered animal, lashing out in a frenzy upon feeling trapped without an exit? I originally intended to avoid that route so as not to injure their pride. I knew this is where their anger stemmed from. The words “no disrespect” that preceded the criticism of the intentions of their employers fell on deaf ears.
When enough time had placed itself between me and the interaction that had transpired, I found I had room for retrospect. My intention was not to humiliate the young men. They had asked for an explanation and I had chosen to be honest. Honesty sometimes comes in the form of discomfort riding on the back of integrity. These boys took a bit of a slap at the idea that they were being used. I could have avoided the honest explanation, sparing their feelings, but perhaps I would have spared them the opportunity to see the reality of the situation they were in. At that point, would I have done them any favors?