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No one should be a ‘means to an end’

Horse_carriageWhether it’s customers or staff at a car dealership or horses pulling carriages, treating anyone exclusively as a means to an end is wrong, writes Tim Gier.

12 September 2010

In another lifetime I was in the business of selling cars.  I worked in large, and small, automobile dealerships and it was my job to decide what kind of “deal” customers got.

If you’ve ever talked to a car salesman and heard him say, “I’ll check with the ‘boss’”, he was referring to a guy like me.

Until about the last five years that I was in business, I did everything I could to avoid talking directly to customers; it’s easier to say no when you don’t have to do it face-to-face.

So, a salesperson would come to me with an offer from a customer, I would say no, and then I’d send the salesperson back to get a better offer.

Eventually, and usually when the customer was too tired to continue to play the game of “back and forth” negotiation, the salesperson would win and bring me an offer I’d accept.  That’s the way cars have been sold in America for decades.

There was one thing, and one thing only, that motivated me for the longest time in my career in the car business.  Making the deal.

I have never been all that concerned about making money; I’m not very good with it and I’m not very interested in material possessions. But I do like to win the games I play and I like to do well at the things I attempt.  Selling cars was a game to me, and I liked to win it.

So, that was my ‘end’, getting the deal. The means to that end were the salesperson and the customer. Whatever I did, I always justified it because getting to the end – getting the deal – was what mattered.

It didn’t matter to me that I manipulated salespeople; it was for their own good, after all, they wouldn’t make a dime if we didn’t get the deal. It also didn’t matter to me if I manipulated the customer. We sold good cars – and I never did anything really despicable.

Except I treated other human beings as nothing more than a means to an end.

That’s the essential wrong, because it denies the other their liberty and their equality. When I would withhold information from a salesperson “for their own good”, it was because I did not respect them and their ability to understand and act upon that information.

When I would use sales tactics and apply pressure in order to cause a customer to “say yes” to a deal she might otherwise walk away from, it was because I did not respect her right to control her own life.

I left the traditional car business in 1998 and started a little business with my brother, buying and selling cars on the internet.

People always said that my brother was too honest to get into selling cars, but they were wrong.  Even though he had no experience in the business and I had too much, I learned a lot from him.

Through working with him, I was able to let go of all the bad habits I had developed. I stopped seeing other people as just a way to win the game, as just the means to an end, and saw them as people once again.

We closed our little business after 7 years and we both went to work for a local luxury car dealership.  I was still the ‘boss’ but I did things differently this time, and treated both the salespeople and the customers like the whole human beings that they were. I still liked to get the deal, but not at any cost, and not by treating people pieces on a game board.

I’ve left the car business entirely now. Even though I don’t want to play the game, the people who own the car dealerships still do, and I just can’t be a part of it anymore.

It’s just wrong to treat other living, feeling, sensing, caring beings as the means to an end.  So I’ve done my level best to stop doing it.

The same applies to non-humans. Animals are not game pieces on a board. They are not tools for us to use to get some job done, or machines for us to use to get some product made.

So we shouldn’t use them to pull our carriages through Central Park and we shouldn’t use them to make our eggs and milk.

When we do those things, we are manipulating them and getting them to do things that they would otherwise not do. We do those things for what is in it for us, without regard to what is in it for them.

Obviously, if it is wrong to use a horse to pull a carriage, it’s wrong to infect animals with the HIV virus or to experiment on them, and it’s wrong to raise them or capture them so we can then kill them for their skins, bones and flesh.

Using and killing other animals in those kinds of ways surely only treats them as the means to an end, and respects nothing of them and their interests.

Very few people I have ever met, and I have met tens of thousands in my 25 year career, ever really liked walking into a car dealership – most people would rather go to the dentist.

That’s because people know when they are being treated badly, even if they can’t explain how, and they know when something is wrong, even if they cannot say exactly what the wrong is. I can’t go back and undo what I have done in the past, and I hope the wrongs I have committed against others caused no lasting damage.

All I can do is change what I do today, and today I will do my level best to treat others not as the means to an end, but as an end in themselves, as lives that are worth living, for the reasons they have, and not for any selfish reasons of my own.

All others have their own lives to live, and I will do my best to just let them.  That is a worthy end in itself.

Tim Gier is a vegan abolitionist writer whose former career in automobile sales management spanned 25 years. He writes about business, politics, human behavior and sometimes pop culture at his blog.


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