Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Christian Salesman

It'd been a marker of sorts, part of my identity for the last four years and change.  My bright yellow motorcycle, a 2008 Suzuki VStrom 650, had gotten me to and from church.  It'd picked kids up from school, and taken them to events, and generally been a trusty companion as I negotiated the steel and asphalt blender of Beltway traffic.  It's carried me twenty six thousand miles over the last four years, three times around the diameter of our little planet.

At my church, I've been the "pastor with the motorcycle," which both carries coolness cache and helps introvert-me open conversations.

Last night, I sold it.

I'd been thinking of selling it for a while, but events conspired to make this the right time to let the ol' girl go, and so up onto Craigslist I went.

And there, as I approached that sale, I encountered a conundrum.  A moral dilemma in miniature, one that played against my understanding of ethics, free-will, human agency, and the nature of our place in creation and the interconnectedness of all things.

All this, in a simple transaction.  We Presbyterians do overthinking better than anyone else on the planet.  Seriously.

Anyhoo, the dilemma was this:  I wanted to sell my motorcycle.  And I wished, from the income of that sale, to purchase another.  That process could have countless variant outcomes, which would be shaped by the ethic I bring into the exchange.

I know, for example, that my bike presented well.  It was bright, gave the appearance of being well maintained, and was desirable.  It started up immediately, and ran like a top.  VStroms have an excellent reputation.  It would not be a hard sell.

But I also know that the bike had developed an electrical gremlin, one that only surfaces after it has been run for an hour.  It's stranded me repeatedly over the last month, which was my primary motivation for the sale.

The issue is possibly a slowly fading alternator, but could be something else.  It'd been gone over by mechanics I trust, and hundreds and hundreds of dollars spent, but remained unreliable. There would be no way for a buyer to determine this during a test-ride, or without running the bike for more than thirty minutes.

And so the question became: how to proceed?  There were so many ways to move forward.  If profit maximization was my goal, I would simply choose not to disclose.  When asked how it runs, I would equivocate carefully, using language to dance around any questions.  "Why are you selling it?"  "Oh, I want a new bike," I would say.  "Any problems?"  "It starts and runs great," I would say.   At no point would I lie.  I would just limit the truths I chose to share.

I could craft an ad that is designed to entice an eager and unwise buyer.  Speed!  Power!  Adventure!  Fun!  Once the title was signed over, and a bill of sale indemnifying me from any liability or responsibility was co-signed, I would be legally free and clear.  Caveat emptor, as they say.

This is the outcome from which I would profit most maximally, the Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman outcome.  I have no relationship with the buyer to jeopardize, and there is little they could do to impact my broader reputation.  I could create that reality with no difficulty.

But I know what it's like to be stranded by the side of the road, and the feeling when others have taken advantage. From my Teacher,  I have an ethical framework that recognizes my essential connectedness to all things, and that assumes that I am radically culpable for my intentionality and actions towards others.  And so, even here in this mundane situation, my theology is at play.  If faith does not inform every last part of one's being, after all, it is not faith.

I want to sell, but at a price that is fair.  I do not wish to inflict, in the process of that sale, any harm, or in any way take advantage.

Further, I want to avoid doing collateral harm to an eager fool, some young idiot like I used to be, ready to rush in and buy, all filled with passion and without a lick of sense.  Oh, they're sure it'll not be a problem for them, because wow, OMG, a motorcycle!  And how hard can learning about all those wires and [stuff] be?

That results in the world becoming a little more cynical, and in my well-loved bike sitting out in the rain at someone's parent's house, slowly rusting and unused.  It would be a waste of a good thing, and the world would be made slightly worse by that choosing.

I did not wish that reality to be made manifest.

So I set the price in recognition of the issues and factoring in the likely cost for repair.  That, by my conservative calculations, was around half the value of the bike had it had no hidden issues.   Then I wrote the ad carefully.  It was written with intent, filled with keywords that indicated that I was both aware of the value of the bike and fully disclosing all issues.  I explained pricing, which I set firmly because I hate haggling.  I structured the phrasing to bring in a serious, aware buyer who both appreciated the potential but saw what would be required.

And so, when my buyer arrived, he was a lifelong motorcyclist and tinkerer, who works in an Army electronics research lab.  He asked all the right questions.  Then he checked it, doing the sort of thorough walk around that indicates seriousness.  There was no haggling, or negotiation.  He knew it was an excellent price, more than fair, and a great bargain and opportunity for someone with his skillset.

As I rode off, I wished him well, and gave thanks that what I had hoped for had come to pass.