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October 27, 2008
Think For Yourself
Before You Vote, If You Can Be Bothered
Any savvy employee of a retail establishment tries to make his customers
feel like their thoughts are poignant, profound and totally delightful,
no matter how long winded or ridiculous they may be. I once talked to a
customer whose feelings concerning seasonal vegetables reached a
political level. I had another customer who talked to me for what seemed
like about a month about the joys of trail-running.
But they’re not all painstakingly uninteresting.
once had a customer who was probably in his early 60s. He was stocky,
had a round face and a wild gray mustache – and he wore glasses and one
of those thin, flat hats you often see on an artist. He had a way of
talking that seemed, although arrogant, as though it came from a great
deal of life experience.
One brisk morning, he was sitting outside, drinking iced coffee and
wearing a thick leather jacket with white, furry lining. I can’t
remember why or how, but he had evidently concluded that I was worth a
few more minutes of his time and, consequently, a story:
was in the food service industry for many, many years. You know, you
learn a lot about people in the food service industry. I owned a deli in
New York for 15 years, and I met all sorts of people. But there was one
thing that kept happening, over and over, and for the longest time, I
couldn’t figure why. People would come into my store and ask, ‘What do
“Every day, I’d get a slew of new customers coming into my store and
without hesitation, ‘What do you recommend?’ It was the strangest thing,
and seemed like a rather silly question, at least one to be asked by so
many people. People ought to know whether they like salami, peppered
turkey or roast beef without asking me.
“Anyway, after a while, I figured it out. It was not because they didn’t
know what they liked. And you know what? It wasn’t even because they
wanted my opinion because I owned the damn place and my opinion ought to
count for slightly more your average Joe. Do you want to know why, every
day, hundreds of people came into my New York deli saying the same four
words, ‘What do you recommend?’”
“I’d love to.”
“People can’t read!”
thought it was a fine story – a bit presumptuous, but still, a fine
I’m not sure he was correct in assuming that the only reason people
asked him for a recommendation was that they were unable to read the
menu. Most estimates give the United States about a 99 percent literacy
rate, which would probably include an ability to read words like rye,
French bread or sourdough.
But if you take what he said completely out of context, his conclusion
becomes pregnant with insight. The reason people always ask, “What do
you recommend?” is not necessarily that they can’t read. It might be
because they choose not to, however, which means they’re something worse
than illiterate. It means they’re lazy.
Perhaps I was a bit hard on the lady who saw the political implications
of vegetables, because now that I think about it, there are political
implications of deli meat. Except that, instead of asking for a sandwich
recommendation, we’re asking, “Who do you recommend for president?”
Many of us have discovered sources we trust, but when it’s election
time, we have to stop trusting others’ opinions and start relying on our
own. It’s not up to Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Michael Savage, Rush
Limbaugh, P-Diddy, the Dixie Chicks, Michael Moore, Joe the Plumber or
Joe the astrophysicist. It’s up to you.
Not too long ago, literacy was the issue. But nowadays, we’ve discovered
that an ability to read means nothing unless you’re actually reading
regularly – and not reading just anything, but things of value.
your own research. Look at the facts. Read between the lines of
misleading statistics and find ones that matter. Look at the candidates’
histories. Look at their voting records, their political records, their
life records. Ask yourself if they’re trustworthy. Ask where their heart
long as we have the privilege of voting, let’s be careful to avoid doing
so recklessly, or even emotionally. No one can vote for you, and no vote
will be cast in your stead. On behalf of our great country, please vote
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