Convincing

January 31, 2016

I’ve been to a number of antique stores over the years, and I am aware that in some, the policy is “You break it, you bought it.”  Some high-end dealers don’t use that policy, some low-end dealers don’t — I haven’t noticed a pattern with regard to the financial part of the issue about who insists on compensation and who doesn’t.  (And no antique dealer I have ever known supported themselves from selling antiques, there has always been another source of income for every one.)

So what goes into the decision of how to handle breakage?  I don’t know.  Personality of the dealer?  As I said, I don’t know.

But I think the fact that there are different approaches to this issue in the context of something so tangible and concrete is interesting:  who bears the burden of the cost of damage?

Well, first issue is agreeing there is damage.  That’s why I started with the title “Convincing”: some people will try to convince you the antique was always cracked, that they did nothing to cause it or even contribute to its creation.  I suspect they convince themselves, but the usual Achilles heel of their argument is that their perspective is the only point of view.  In some cases, it is an assumption that everybody agrees that the norm is whatever it is they are claiming, say, that it’s okay to pull what you see as weeds out of stranger’s garden.  Never seems to occur to them that a gardener might prefer to have their space invaded by weeds rather than by other people, or that they might actually want that plant in there where it is.  This is why looking for internal guidance that does not come from the ego is so helpful — the content of such guidance provides neutral space for our behaviors to intersect with each other with less friction and damage.  With a cracked antique, this assumption might be expressed by saying it’s a cost of doing business that “stuff happens.”

Once there is damage — uprooted plant, cracked antique, bills unpaid when the income check bounced — who absorbs it?  I am wondering about how people decide this as a social matter, not as a matter of law.

I think it was in Maureen Dowd’s column this weekend about Donald Trump that suggested to me that rich and powerful people may feel they can get away with never having to absorb the damage at their end:  “’I’m really rich and successful,’ he replied. ‘I don’t have to make up with everyone.’”

On the other hand, some rich and successful people will want to buy that cracked antique, not just as a gesture to the dealer or in acknowledgement that the value of the item has been diminished by the damage, but because they will feel better about themselves in the long run, they feel the mishap brought the item to their attention and are curious to see how it might enhance their life, they feel that’s what is called for, perhaps through their internal guidance,etc.

An antiques dealer may just write the expense off like the expense of having paid too much for a piece that won’t sell in their area.  A browser may apologize profusely and buy a lesser item they can afford if they can’t afford what they damaged.  A dealer may not care about the money at all or may eventually close their business.

What I think is actually most important in determining the bearing of the cost of damage is the process of working it out to a mutually acceptable arrangement.  I suspect there are no “one size fits all” remedies.  But I think the problem is made worse by a unilateral attempt to leave the other person with the onus of absorbing the costs.  And I can see in this context too the lesson of the blind men needing to pool their respective experiences of the different parts of the elephant — the lesson may be about communication, not about the underlying damage.

 

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