Odd Thoughts: Honour lost with embarrassment

Call me an old fogey, if you will, but it still irks me every time I buy something… and then am expected to pay extra to ensure that it actually does what it’s supposed to.

It seems that a certain amount of embarrassment is missing.

And with it, honour seems to have dissipated, as well.

It used to be that when you bought a car or a refrigerator or a washing machine – or anything – there was an understanding between yourself and shop owner who sold it to you.

That understanding extended all the way past the shop owner, in fact, and right back to the folks who built the thing in the first place.

The understanding was that you would pay your money, and they would provide you with whatever widget you were buying – in good working order.

The understanding was based on your word and theirs.

And those words meant something.

Washing machines and toasters and typewriters (it’s probably not a total coincidence that the “understanding” of which I speak seems to have dissipated with the rise of the computer) were built, distributed, and sold by people who not only took pride in their work, but backed up their pride with their word of honour.

If your toaster fell apart or for whatever reason stopped toasting, you took it back to an embarrassed shop owner who apologized all over the place for having sold you a defective piece of equipment.

And there was a sense that the manufacturer was equally embarrassed, and eager to make things right.

…Just as you would have been embarrassed beyond belief if your cheque had bounced or you had been unable to come up with the final $10 payment you’d promised the merchant.

Yes, they used to do that: accept your word of honour that you’d come back with the rest of the money in a week or two.

That was before the television ads began asking, “Will that be cash… or Chargex?”

Charge cards have made things easier, of course, and the bank debit cards that followed them, and the online payment systems that have taken us yet another step further from any personal involvement between buyer and seller and manufacturer.

And as the personal distance has grown, so has the impersonal distance.

Indeed, it seems to have started with the banks and their credit cards and their ATMs and what not. When is the last time you actually stood face-to-face with a bank teller?

So if your money doesn’t make it to the merchant, or indeed, it doesn’t get to the bank because you don’t have it this week – or you never intended to have it – where’s the cause for embarrassment? You don’t know the guy… he doesn’t know you. And it’s not your money that actually falls into the shopkeeper’s hands – it’s all a sort of collective, with extra charges and penalties for everyone to make up for those who are beyond embarrassment… beyond honour.

It’s all calculated into the final mix.

And that’s why that washing machine doesn’t come with an understanding – a word of honour that used to be an ironclad guarantee.

Instead, it comes with a warrantee… at a price.

You pay extra to ensure the value of the product that you are buying.

And make no mistake about it: you are not paying extra to ensure that the product you are buying will be fault-free.

That extra cost is to ensure that, in the likelihood that the manufacturer’s product is faulty, someone else will come and fix it.

No reason to be embarrassed: no honour.

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