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How to Have (Another) Argument

Posted by Dirck on 28 August, 2012

Some time ago, I offered a little example of how one has a decent and productive argument, with myself in the role of The Fool.  I’ve recently been involved in another of the little dramas life on the internet can become, in which there are three players rather than two, which the pre-Shakespearean stage would likely have touted as A Mechant Endeavours to Make Good.  My role for this outing is that of The Reasonable Customer.

…and here I decide to not make a fake script of it, because I only have so much time and

Sound of a tucket without; ENTER Reasonable Customer bearing A Small Brown Parcel

R. Cust: Lo, ’tis the long-awaited Cathay Marchendize!

…is as time-consuming to type as to read.  So, I get this parcel from Hong Kong, which I’d been expecting for a while.  I’d on a whim spent somewhat more money on postage than a pen, which was an unusual Chinese maker’s take on a Sheaffer Thin Model, rather than the usual semi-reproduction of a Parker 51/61/21.  When I opened the package and found a completely different pen, I was somewhat nonplussed.  Since the pen I was expecting wasn’t particularly expensive nor a true rarity, I was momentarily inclined to just let it drop.  However, the pen I was looking at, an all-steel, semi-hooded job with a rather clever converter, looked like rather more pen than the one I’d ordered, and the postage on the package was definitely more than I’d sent along.  I formed a suspicion that two parcels had been sent out the same day, and the wrong address was put on each of them.

There are people of my acquaintance who would open this correspondence with an accusation:  “You have sent me the wrong pen, you dummy.”  The obvious response to that sort of approach is, “Oh, yeah?  Well, you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny!”  Confrontation wasn’t what I sought.  The note I ended up sending started with congratulations at the good job of packing up the pen, and then in as non-confrontational a way as possible, with emphasis on how common to all humans the trait of fallibility is, I laid out what I’d actually got and what my suspicion was.  The finish was essentially a request; how might we collaborate to get this thing sorted out?

The response was entirely civil; the suspected mis-labelling was certainly the way of things, the pen I had in hand was indeed a rather better one than the one I’d ordered, and unless I was absolutely desperate for that Shefferesque item, he would be just as happy to see me keep it.  It would, after all, avoid an extra exposure of all the pens to the mails, save me and the mysterious Other Customer some trouble of stopping around the post office, and save Merchant at least one dose of postage (he was still on the hook for getting Other Customer another example of the better pen).

There was a bit of an internal debate at that point.  It wasn’t what I actually wanted… but it was an interesting pen, from a manufacturer I had not run up against before (of course, in China, they are legion).  I assented to just hanging onto what I had and leaving him and Other Customer to hash things out.

Compromise.  If you want to point to an effective lubricant of human society, you hardly need look any further.  I could have insisted upon my Cheap Pen, and I could have gotten absolutely no satisfaction.  Compromise is not, as some would suggest, a terrible thing.  It’s an admission that not every situation will be ideal, that merely human failings are not necessarily active wickedness, and that sometimes not exactly what you want is as good as it will get.  Those who have read Watchmen, or seen the film, will see exactly how much joy someone unwilling to admit to compromise gets out of life.  With the power of compromise, I can convince myself that I’ve made the best of a very marginally bad situation, I saved myself a lot of screeching and elevated blood pressure, and I added a tiny grain to the “Happy” pan of the great balance of the world; somewhere in Hong Kong’s towering mazes, there’s a chap who for a moment had the relief of seeing a possibly complicated problem evaporate even as it presented itself.  Wouldn’t we all like to be able to perform such eradications?

Today’s pen (which is one I had expected): Pelikan New Classic
Today’s ink: Pelikan Brilliant Brown

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