Man, it’s rough. I don’t know where to start or where to begin: So this was a week that needed a lot of running around on my part. And by “running” I do mean walking, but I mean walking with my actual feet, you know what I’m saying? I depend on public transport, which in my city is pretty good, but inevitably involves a lot of wandering around on pedestrian-unfriendly roads, crossing median strips, hopping the odd snowfence, and waiting for buses in the hot sun. A complicated trip is fine once in a while, but more than once a week? I start to feel like I should be walking with a retinue of half-blind cats and mumbling curses against the wicked provost of the last town who drove me out after I made his she-cows’ udders run dry.
One of these was for a job interview in the middle of a “neighbourhood” known as The Trainyards, which seemed to be populated mostly by trucks. I had a bad feeling about it. Telemarketing job, whatever, I’m not proud at this point, but when I googled the company name the very first term that popped up was “[COMPANY NAME REDACTED] scam”. Picking through the search results, I determined that they weren’t so much a scam company as they were jerks who put the hard sell on people and convinced them to spend way too much on cookware.
So I wondered, at what point does it become unethical to work for a company? If you let yourself fall for a sales pitch and you pay an inflated price, doesn’t caveat emptor put the customer at fault, not the seller? But it was obvious from reading the comments that people felt jerked around by this company, and also that the sales tactics made them feel embarrassed.
Now that caught my attention particularly because Judaism takes the duty not to embarrass quite seriously. (E.g. keitzad merakdim lifnei hakallah?) I like this a lot, because it feels like a sensible and humane thing to take into consideration. Aggressive sales tactics that make people feel like they’re stupid or poor, cornering people, forcing them to be rude, all of this seems (at best) like a sub-optimal way to treat customers. I would rather those things didn’t happen. I don’t blame the sales reps for this because I know full well that the higher levels of the hierarchy make them do it.
Another issue, maybe, is geneivat da’at. This company reportedly told customers its products were made by a famous manufacturer in Germany, but when they arrived the packaging said otherwise. If true, this is a pretty clear-cut example of the principle as I understand it. The problem in geneivat da’at is not just financial, since it can apply even to gift situations, and the problem is also not solely that it’s misrepresentation–otherwise saying that the ugly bride is charming and beautiful would also be wrong. (Well, Shammai thinks it is, because of course he would, but Hillel disagrees.) What’s the difference between paying a compliment that you don’t mean and misrepresenting a product?
“Any words or actions that cause others to form incorrect conclusions about one’s motives might be a violation of this prohibition. One does not have the right to diminish the ability of another person, Jew or Gentile, to make a fair and honest evaluation, whether in business or interpersonal relations.” [*]
Okay! This explanation makes it clearer. When we compliment a bride (or someone’s new shoes or whatever), the key choice has already been made. The person exercised their judgement in choosing to marry or in choosing to buy. You’re not persuading them to do something based on bad intel, you’re just being nice. This matches up pretty well with our pre-philosophical intuitions: most people feel like “white lies” are morally neutral and occasionally required, but we don’t feel that way about shady sales tactics.
I’m not sure it’s possible to avoid buying from or working for any company that does geneivat da’at. It would be even harder to avoid companies that treat individuals in an undignified way, particularly big corporations. Workers at the lower levels just don’t have as much control over how they sell, and what they sell. But I do think it’s something worth considering.
So anyway, all this reading and thinking made me give the job a whole lot of side-eye, but I went to the interview despite it. And they wanted me to work Saturdays and also didn’t pay that much (I have a realistic idea of how persuasive I actually am over the phone, which is not a whole lot) so forget about it.
Them belly full, but we hungry: Due to this roaming around the city for bad job interviews, and getting sunburned twice, I didn’t make it to shul again for Shabbat morning. But I did fast for Tisha B’Av. Sat on some cushions on the floor, didn’t wear shoes, read Lamentations, thought heavy thoughts and watched The Pianist because I hadn’t seen it in a long time. Fasting is tough. And may I say, fasting in the Catholic tradition in no way prepares you for Jewish-style fasting.
The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday [Canon 97] to the 59th Birthday [i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday] to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem contrary to the spirit of doing penance. [source, bold for emphasis]
A meal and two snacks (collations is the proper Latinate term) is barely a diet, let alone a total fast. And those are the strictest fasts of the year, while the rest are just eating salmon instead of steak. If I’d even been allowed water it would have been easier. But I made it! Now excuse me while I continue to demolish this frozen cheesecake.