Depth of a Salesman, part 1: ‘Attention must be paid’

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Depth of a Salesman

Pre WWII auto dealership postcardFrom Dr. Wayne Baker, founder of OurValuesBenjamin Pratt is a veteran counselor, scholar, teacher and author, but first and foremost he is a storyteller who recognizes the power of story to convey deeper truths about the values that matter most to us. Here is Part 1 of an unusual OurValues series. Here’s Ben Pratt …

Car Dealership in 1947

Classic Image of a Car Salesman. Don O’Brien took this photo at an Ohio Ford dealership in 1947 and released the photo for public use via Creative Commons.

THIS WEEK, in OurValues, I’m going to tell you a story about a salesman.

Are you bracing yourself for a terrible tale?

He’s a used car salesman.

Even worse?

Then, let me add this detail: He’s an African immigrant selling used cars.

Are you suddenly thinking of those infamous Internet scams with origins in Africa? Diamonds waiting somewhere if you’ll only wire $1,000 to Nigeria?

Well, you’re wrong. This is not that kind of story. Quite the opposite.

As Willy Loman’s wife Linda insists about her besieged husband in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman: “Attention must be paid.” Like most sales people in America, Loman “never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper,” Linda tells us. “But attention—attention must be paid to such a person.”

I did. I paid attention. And, this week I’m going to tell you the story of how we met—and what happened when we did.

His given name is Abraham, but his name tag at the dealership invited me to call him “Abe.” He came to this country from Ghana in West Africa. And, when I went to shop for a used car, Abe told me that his primary value as a salesman is …

But first: What’s your guess? What is Abe’s primary professional value?

Here’s what he told me: Honesty. Or, as he put it “being completely honest about the condition of the cars and the range of our prices.”

Do you believe him? Be honest, now.

I was skeptical, too. But he explained why he ranks this value of honesty above all others: “People don’t expect a car salesman to be completely honest.”

As you read this week’s five-part story, think about your reactions to details in what unfolded that day between Abe and me. You’re free to share this story with friends—even to repost or copy or print out this true story.

All I ask is that you do something good in the world, this week—by starting a discussion with friends. Healthy conversations make for healthy communities.

Care to read more?

Benjamin Pratt is the author of three books published by ReadTheSpirit BooksHis occasional columns appear in ReadTheSpirit online magazine, the website of the Day1 radio network and in other online clergy networks as well.

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