Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Lesson in Assertiveness

Sometimes lessons can cost us a lot of money, even if we never signed up for them!

I spent $100 for my last lesson.  It was a lesson on assertiveness...or lack thereof, in my case.

There is a new shop in town that just opened about a month ago.  This weekend was an open house to showcase its seasonal goods.  The building is actually a red barn that has been tastefully cleaned up, landscaped and lit with bright white mini-lights.  For sale is all manner of artisan creations by local artists---beautiful woodwork, hand-painted ceramics, bath goods infused with locally grown lavender, herb-infused olive oil, handmade chocolates, and many other interesting and well-crafted goods.  I was excited to explore this new shop and eagerly went on Saturday with two friends.  We sampled some of the tasty treats as we browsed, admiring the craftmanship and beauty of the artists' offerings.  I came across a beautiful platter made of wine barrel staves, and I couldn't help but exclaiming over it to my friends.  I have admired a similar platter in one of my favorite coffee shops for quite some time and have tried to find one for myself.  This platter was rubbed smooth, highly polished and given legs to keep it from rocking, as barrel staves are naturally curved. 

I wanted a more rustic one, minus the legs and polish, that looks like this:

I spoke out loud to my friends that I wanted a rustic one, and suddenly a man's voice came from behind me and said, "You're looking for a rustic one?"

"Yes," I said, hopefully.  "Do you have one?"

He was the artist, and he did have one, but it was up in his barn.  He said he would be happy to go get it for me, as it was only minutes up the road.  I was excited!  He left and I looked for the price on the one he had finished.  $135.  I reasoned to myself that $35 would probably be a fair price for a slat from a broken barrel, and even though it cost the artist nothing I was willing to pay him for getting it for me since I had no means to get it myself.

He came back shortly and handed it to me.  It was what I wanted, complete with cracks in the edges, but it was dirtier than I expected.  It left a long streak of dirt on the sleeve of my jacket.  It obviously came right off the floor of his barn!  But I figured I could lightly sand it and clean it up.  I'd even get to use it for Thanksgiving dinner this week!

I took it to the counter and he followed me up.  "It's not on inventory," he told the girl who was ringing me up.  "So how much?" she asked.  "$100" he replied.  The girl and I both gave a little, "Ha!" at his funny joke...$100 for a dirty, broken barrel stave!  She continued to ring up my other purchases and when she had finished she asked again, "How much for the platter?"  He said in a very firm voice with the tone of I've-already-told-you-this-why-are-you-asking-me-again, "$100."  She looked up and said in a bewildered voice, "But it doesn't have legs."  He said in that same firm tone, "She doesn't want legs."  So the girl wrote "100.00" on my receipt and I just about died inside.  But I didn't say a word.  I felt trapped.  I had already made a couple connections with this man, first when he met us as we entered the store and I recognized him as being a member of the community club that selected and sent my daughter to France as an exchange student and second when we had had a brief discussion about the church I'm from, which was just kitty-corner to his store.  So now standing at the register with him beside me, I felt intimidated, stupid, powerless, mad, taken advantage of, and a whole lot more!  I handed over my visa as casually as if the price was $10, signed the slip, met my friends, and walked out, thanking him as I left!  Thanking him for ripping me off.  Thanking him for being rude (or shrewd) enough to make 100% profit.  Thanking him for reminding me why he was rich and I was poor.

See, he is rich...easily one of the richest men in our city.  I'm sure he didn't rip me off to be mean and unfair.  It's just the way he thinks, has been trained to think, and has thought his whole life.  You do what it takes to make a profit on anything you touch.  If people are willing to bite, you've got yourself a catch.  And that is why he is rich.  I, on the other hand, think and have been trained to think and have thought my whole life, "Oh, it's this much?  Okay.  It's more than I wanted to pay, but if you say so."  And that is why I am poor.  He is the weasel and I am the wimp.

When I told my son my story, he laughed and said, "And that's why you're the 99%."  Yes, it's true.  And that's why I made up my mind to go back to the store and return the $100 dirty barrel stave.  Sure there's some happenstance to why and how we may not be in the 1%, but mostly it's a choice.  He chose to charge me $100 for the barrel stave and I chose to purchase it.  I wasn't forced.

So today I dressed up, did my make-up, put on my power heels and picked up the most expensive purse I own. Then with confidence I went into the store and returned my barrel stave.  I didn't apologize or make excuses, I simply said, "I thought about it and I'd rather not pay $100 for a barrel stave."  And she said, looking over her glasses with understanding eyes and a kind smile, "I understand completely," and handed me my receipt.

Now, a rustic barrel stave platter is on my Christmas list.  If you find one for less than $100, let me know!

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