Right To Ask Why

“I’m convinced that today the majority of Americans want what those first Americans wanted: A better life for themselves and their children; a minimum of government authority. Very simply, they want to be left alone in peace and safety to take care of the family by earning an honest dollar and putting away some savings. This may not sound too exciting, but there is something magnificent about it. On the farm, on the street corner, in the factory and in the kitchen, millions of us ask nothing more, but certainly nothing less than to live our own lives according to our values–at peace with ourselves, our neighbors and the world.”

– Ronald Reagan

It’s warm and stuffy inside the bank. For some reason, no one has turned on the air conditioning today–or maybe it has malfunctioned. The guy in front of me in line seems to be taking forever. The teller is running back and forth, and he’s standing there–while I wait. Look at his clothes. What a slob. And where did he get that haircut? He probably got a free bowl of soup with that “do.” I hate this guy. If I could, I’d reach over and kick him in the pants, and say, “Get moving!” Suddenly, he turns with a smile and says, “Do you have a pen by any chance?” I’m completely disarmed. I pause, shrug, smile, and give him my pen. “Sorry for the wait,” he says. “Their computers are down.” I smile again, nod furiously, and say, “Oh–I–uh, I’m in no hurry.” He smiles, nods, uses the pen, hands it back, and I stand there–looking away.

What happened there, Mr. Toughguy? I thought I was going to kick this sorry excuse for a human being. Did I wimp out? What’s the matter with me?

It’s been rumored that some people were in the process of being robbed outside the WorldTradeCenter when it was attacked, but when robber and victim found themselves in the same predicament, they helped each other run to safety.

What happened there?

What happened in both cases was that some kind of “jarring event” made people look at something in a new way, and that revised view made the difference.

Gimmicks Breed Skepticism

But some views are harder to revise. Big American car-makers are trying to stay ahead of their Japanese counterparts who are moving up quickly in the market share of new car sales. The Americans are offering $7,000 rebates, but it is not working. Do you know why? We don’t trust them because we’ve been duped by them before. What they hope will persuade us just makes us skeptical. We think the rebate is just window-dressing and they’ll get our money some other way. No trust translates to no sale.

I received a mailer last week stating that if I buy new windows for my house, the company will save me $200 per window. How do I know if that’s true? I assume they raised the prices at some point before they advertised the discount, so that “savings” really isn’t a savings. How do I know what I saved if I don’t know what it once cost? I do think one thing–I think they’re lying.

Diet formulas, bogus exercise equipment, brake jobs (only $20 per wheel, which does not include turning rotors or new brake pads, making it $120 per wheel), a $10 case of water, a $15 one-item pizza–folks, what kinds of messages are being sent?

Let’s glean two facts from the above. First, we have started to accept that unknown, outside factors govern the way things go, and questioning them takes too much work and effort. If someone says it is so, it probably is so. Second, we have been taught to distrust what we are told because there is always a catch–some detail that is beyond our knowledge. We conclude we just don’t know what’s best for us. That’s why we believe we are at the mercy of oil barons and politicians who know so much more about things than we do. The fact is they don’t, but they are empowered by our laziness.

Winning Small Battles Is A Victory

I always laugh when I hear that the coach of a professional sports team was fired because the team did not win the championship. It implies that the team got there by itself, and with just a tweak–like someone else driving the car–it will get there faster. It has been my experience that any coach who gets his team to the playoffs or in the championship game should be lauded as an absolute winner. If a coach has the integrity to get his team to the finals, the rest is up to player execution and good fortune. No coach should be fired unless the players make it clear that they can do more with better management. But we just want to find a culprit.

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