As everyone knows cars – used or otherwise – are a ‘big thing’ in the so-called developed world. In the United States, in particular, it is the car one drives that determines one’s stature in society, or so one is led to believe. Selling and buying of used cars has become part of the social vocabulary. In America’s lexicon, “Would you buy a used car from this guy?” has become synonymous with “Would you trust this person?” The American media, for instance, is known to make extensive use of this ‘criterion’ when evaluating candidates for elective office. In the primaries for nomination of candidates for the US presidential elections, for instance, this question is known to figure very often.
The term ‘used car’, it would appear, has acquired a somewhat shady and unsavory connotation. By the same token, essence of the phrase ‘used car salesman’ has assumed shades of that of a shyster or a crook. No wonder, then, that in many countries the ‘used car salesmen’ fraternity has resolved to adopt the euphemism ‘pre-owned cars’ in place of ‘used cars’. It sounds altogether more elegant and less fishy, don’t you think? Still ‘pre-owned car salesman’ does not have quite the same ring to it as had ‘used-car salesman’ of yesteryear. By the same token, the question “would you buy a pre-owned car from this guy?” does not, in deed, have the same fruity flavour as the classic question the world is familiar with. But, let us face it; the erstwhile ‘used-car salesmen’ do have a point!
The one impression that one garners from the aforesaid is that, for reasons not far-fetched, it is hardly possible to fob off a used piece of machinery on anyone of normal intelligence without appropriate use of guile. In simple terms, should you decide to make a living selling used (or pre-owned, if you prefer) cars, then you must possess not only gift of the gab but also a bit of chicanery to go along with it. Does all this not sound a bit familiar when you look at politicians, selling their point of view on the ‘idiot box’?
This said, the question that presents itself is: can a person sell a used something or the other by being completely honest about it? This is by no means an easy question to answer. And it can be expanded to cover all kinds of commerce there is. Would it not complicate matters somewhat?
Especially for our group of leaders and aspiring leaders! As it is, honesty is a quality that is not easy to define or to quantify; much less with a certain degree of precision. Any person who professes that ‘honesty is the best policy’ should first be required to prove his own bona fides before making such loaded comments. The proof of the pudding is, or at least should be, in the eating.
Talking of honesty logically brings one to the mention of ‘generosity’. One came across a rather apt quote the other day. It went something like this: “How much easier it is to be generous than just! Men are sometimes bountiful who are not honest”. This does open up a new and interesting line of thought. One often comes across persons who are ostensibly very generous on face value, and yet when you scratch the surface you find that they are less than honest in their dealing with their fellow beings.
One does not have to travel far. Just looking around, one can discern several ‘philanthropists’ of the day who have come to enjoy lofty reputations through construction of houses of worship (for example) and yet when it comes to honoring their financial commitments to their fellow beings, they are sadly found wanting. In today’s world people care more for images and less for substance. An edifice goes up for all to see and admire, while sleights of the hand go generally unnoticed and un-accounted for.
Be that as it may, one’s intention here is not to pass judgment on peoples’ sins of omission or commission. At the same time, though, as a layman one would really appreciate a criterion whereby it would be possible to have the benefit of discerning whether or not a certain ‘gentleman’ is trustworthy enough to ‘buy a used-car from’.
All in all, is it not a trifle intriguing to confront man’s unfailing tendency to conjure up euphemisms for things unpleasant or odious. It is the façade that counts in this imperfect – and shall one add, shallow – world of ours. In most organisations, public or private, in this blessed land for one, it is futile to look for a worthwhile system to evaluate a group of personnel or their performance. As a consequence, merit goes out the nearest window!
In view of the aforesaid, should it not be appropriate to put in a question in all evaluation forms to the effect that “Would you buy a used car from this person?” The only catch (and it is a big catch!) is that all such evaluations eventually turn out to be subjective per se and hardly ever fully objective as intended! How is one to ensure, then, that the person rendering the evaluation report is himself fit to buy a used car from? And that brings us squarely back to square one!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.