Sunday, March 27, 2011

Recent lessons learned

The dichotomy between feelings and reason is too simplistic. I've paid lip service to this before but I've found concrete evidence of it. That evidence is in love.

In Catholic culture much is made of the fact that true love is not so much an emotion but a choice. I believe this is true. Emotions, as I am fond of saying, are brain chemistry. My intention isn't to belittle emotions but only to point out that, like everything in nature, they are always changing, and are subject to forces beyond our control.

Now here comes the new lesson I've learned: Love is more than emotion, but it can't be less than emotion.

I do not say that occasional dryness bespeaks love's dissipation. Love is no reed blowing in a wind. Love is constant and trustworthy, in a way that feelings, good though they may be, are not.

But neither does true love exist in any kind of vacuum of feeling. In fact, contrary to my previous way of thinking, love doesn't thrive independently of feelings. Absent of emotion, love can subsist meagerly, for a time--perhaps even indefinitely, dormantly, like an animal in hibernation. But such a hibernation is not typical, nor should it be celebrated. In some pairs of lovers, the emotional aspect never flags.

Love without emotion (or very little of it) is a soul without a body. It is an incomplete being; a ghost seeking closure.

Catholic ambivalence about love is that emotional love is a passion. "Passions" is basically another word for emotions, but the formal term "passions" reveals something about them, namely, that they affect us. We are "passive" to them. By calling them passions, we illustrate that they are not so much something we do as they are something that happens to us.

Catholic theology has much to say about the passions. We regard them with a wary celebration--a little like the Red Ryder BB Gun of A Christmas Story: "You'll shoot your eyes out!" They are both wonderful and dangerous. Every passion can be directed toward good or evil. The "seven deadly sins" are corrupted passions; for each of them, we can point out a corresponding virtue. Anger becomes courage for justice; sloth becomes temperance; envy becomes a desire to match others' virtue.

The sanctioned approach is to ensure that our passions are rooted in God. Which, for the scholastics, meant rooting them in Truth, made most explicit in reason.

It sounds a little Vulcan (BTW, just saw the new Star Trek movie... best part of it is Leonard Nimoy).

But it's different than the Vulcans in two important ways. First, unlike the Vulcans, we don't say that our passions are in conflict with reason and truth--only that emotions are best when they are molded by reason and truth.

And second, our natural passions are meant to be understood as faint shadows of something which is supernatural--the ineffable, wordless, mystical aspect of God. Passions and emotions shame the logic's pretensions to know the whole universe. This simple animal function of our organism, this brain chemistry, breaks open our logical deductions into awe, wonder, and speechless gratitude.

Reason and the passions both image God in their own proper way.

Now here's another piece of the puzzle.

We say that God loves, and that God desires (i.e., he desires us). Now, technically, God can't desire because desire is a form of passion. God can't have passions, since God is not passive. This is just jargon for saying that God isn't affected by anything; he's always the one doing the affecting. Since God isn't affected (by nature, by forces, by sad movies), God doesn't have affections.

But if that's true, how can God love? Even more difficult, how can God desire? Desire is not just a passion, but a whole category of passions: the concupiscible passions. So it seems impossible to say that God desires.

A few points in response:

First, to say that God desires is a little bit of an equivocation. God's desire is not a passive desire; it is not a passion; i.e., it is not an appetite. God is not "hungry". Just as we can observe that human love is sometimes "hungry"--self-centered, consumptive, needy--God's love conspicuously lacks this dimension. God's desire is always a desire to give himself away. "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work" (John 4:34).*

Second, in spite of this, we can still say that God's love is attended by yearning. God is not passive (to emotions); and yet, in his very being, he is eager to give himself away.

What I'm finding here is a passion which is not a passion. In love, there is an experience which is "passionate," but unlike the other passions, it does not become corrupted by its extremes. True love is the only emotion that does not become destructive when it is experienced in its absolute form. Yet it is truly an emotion. Or at least, it is attended by an emotion. An eagerness; a yearning.

Perhaps, in psychology, we have here something like evidence of the uniqueness of a certain emotional phenomenon.

And in theology, we may have here evidence for the presence of grace.

As for me, I have learned: love's emotion is as holy as love's solemn choice.


* - To be sure, in natural love there is nothing inherently wrong with concupiscence, i.e., being needy. We believe that God himself experienced neediness in Jesus. "I thirst" (John 19:28). Appetites, needs, passions--these are all the curious byproduct of our creation as finite, limited beings. We are a "new" kind of existence, somewhere between the infinite and nothing. Passions are our unique expression.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

On sales.

The skills of the salesman are unabashedly manipulative. In a week's training with The Simple Group in door-to-door office supply sales, I learned that the four most powerful tools in the seller's pocket are greed, urgency, fear of loss, and indifference. Unlocking your customer's anxiety is the key to success.

I am a conscientious objector to the predator-prey model of sales. I stake my job and my good name on my ability to subvert and transform that model and also exceed sales expectations. This is possible because all things are possible, and I am a darn good seller.

Sales are the absolute bread and butter of the department. Our technicians' livings don't come from their talent in disassembling laptops but in customer purchases. While, in the long run, our skill and our reputation is important for sales, we must have short-term action on the sales front. We are a business. This is legitimate and good.

So, in this post, I will outline the fundamental principles that run through all of my interactions with customers and that make me an effective salesman.

1. Truth comes first. This is expressed in two parts: fairness, and the good of the customer. This is a priority that I can proudly hold and make explicit to the customer. The foundation of our business relationship is one of transparency and trust. The customer already knows that we are a business. The customer knows that I expect reciprocal fairness for the fairness I provide. The customer can also know that I owe my organization due compliance in exchange for their empowering me to serve the customer. But most importantly, the customer can know that what I want most is to solve their real problems and do it well.

Demolish pretenses, "techniques", and manipulations right off the bat. This is especially true when the customer brings emotions or unfulfillable demands to the table. But it applies to all cases.

1b. Tranquility. Don't underestimate the importance of emotions to our industry. When customers purchase our services they are not purchasing a repaired computer; they are not even purchasing our labor. They are purchasing assurance and relief from anxiety. Customers will pay more for a service they can get elsewhere when assurance and confidence is projected by a department. Comfort is the real product. Your ability to be a comforting presence at the point of sale and throughout the business relationship is paramount.

1c. Realism. Every transaction must be grounded in realistic expectations and fulfillable terms. Never lose sight of limitations on our time and resources when conversing with the customer. We need not advertise our limitations, but assure the customer that the promises we make are good. Do not write a bad check to the customer.

1d. Clarity. Mutual understanding between the technician and the customer must be double-confirmed. Every incorrect belief is a time bomb.

2. Know, love, and trust your product, your company, and yourself. It's easy to be a seller in Fry's Electronics. Our services are cheap and we're *&^% good at them. We do more for our customers than the competition. We will take care of the customer. And if there's any way this has not been true in the past, we will make it true now. I will make it true. For you.

Genuine, sincere pride is a double-virtue in the service industry. It projects a good image and it purifies the operation internally. So long as they are rooted in truth, realism, and clarity, bold statements reassure the customer and create a motivational investment on the part of the technician. But boldness must be rooted in sincerity.

(I am an advocate of units being assigned to the technician who checks them in, with exceptions made when necessary.)

2b. Everybody can afford and will benefit from our services. Failing to offer services is not a failure to sell; it's a failure to serve. Under no circumstances should we be giving customers back filthy, disgusting computers; slow, unoptimized computers with not enough RAM, computers with lost data, or laptops whose wireless function they're not using, or that they're using dangerously on unsecured, poorly configured networks. Why would we allow customers to spend $1000 on a prefab gaming desktop when we can build a better one for $700?

Offering services is not up-selling. It's not, "Would you like fries with that?"

It's consultation and problem solving.

Companies pay technicians a lot of money for expert consultation. We provide that service to individuals for free. Don't be embarrassed to offer services. Be proud of yourself and your team mates. That's team knowledge. There is no IT problem we can't solve together.