But…I’m Already Happy…

IMG_4721It happens, now and again, as I scroll through my Facebook feed, to encounter a dangling carrot.  The dangler, or angler, or lifestyle salesperson, or multi-level marketing pitch-er, croons a solution and jiggles the carrot.  This presupposes that I have the problem they’re ready to help with.

I’ve never been a fan of motivational posters; I mean does anyone actually feel more heroic or brave or encouraged from reading some cliche splayed across a rugged mountain scene, with some self-actualized hiker standing at the edge with his fists raised double and high?

So when friends, acquaintances, and high school buddies post a triumphant selfie, product in hand, and then talk about wellness, no more migraines, boundless energy, community, opportunity, financial freedom, balanced chakras, vacation money, bonuses, Lexuses, joy, bravery, DREAMS, hot tubs, and talk abysmally about J-O-B-S (yes, some actually do spell it out like it’s a dirty word) that are implicitly heinous, life-wasting occupations for the cowardly, blind, subservient miserable masses, I find I genuinely have no understanding of what sort of fish is hungry for that bait.  And why, to me, it looks like a neon, rubber worm with a barbed hook inside?

And then I know it; you don’t scratch where it doesn’t itch.  If the fish is well-fed, even the flashiest of bait isn’t tempting.  See, I’m already happy.  I’m not hungry for that oddly-luminous, sparkly bait.

No, they’re right, I can’t afford to travel the world, nor drive a Lexus, nor buy a fancy hot tub, nor receive massive bonuses, but what I can afford to do still astounds me.

We can drive to the ocean, folks!  THE OCEAN!  Where I grew up in Montana, the ocean was several hundreds of dollars and hours upon hours away.  I didn’t see one until I was seventeen.  I get a thrill every time I see it, and getting tossed around in it’s rocking and rolling waves is pure joy.

And, seeing those dear faces, I get to have kids!!!  Lots of them!  I know so many folks whose bodies don’t have the ability to bear children, and that breaks my heart.  I don’t take it for granted that this unfathomable blessing has been given to me and my husband.

Every single day we eat and have clean water to drink!  There is a group I’m a part of in Facebookland called “Real Hope For Haiti“, and they regularly post pictures of incoming patients; little kids swollen from kwashiorkor (malnourishment), and ask for prayers for critical cases.  My eyes fill with tears.  How could I not be grateful, so very thankful for our daily sustenance?  It converts my hunger into hunger-to-help!  Keep your protein shakes and moon juice and algae-aloe-smoothie miracle powders; I’m astounded to have the food I have!

A lot of the pitches have three themes:  autonomy (you’re in charge, you own a business, you decide your hours), wealth (commissions, bonuses, free cars, cheaper or free products), and altruism (you’re helping other people achieve their dreams and/or improve their health) to make the first two seem like mere side benefits.  You can get the glow of a hero and the bank account of a CEO, all in one!

I almost feel bad for not having the problems they’re ready to fix; or in a lot of ways, I don’t see my particular sufferings in the same light as they do.  I don’t automatically assume that hard financial times are an altogether bad thing; they can be a crucible for one’s character, teach one frugal habits, activate humility, and make identification and empathy for the poor an immediate thing.  It’s hard to look down on someone you’re standing next to.

One seller posted accusingly, “Why be sick?  You can be free of that if you use essential oils, duh!” (my paraphrase).  I wonder how Job would have heard that, in his ash pile, covered in boils.  “Oh, so it wasn’t God allowing Satan to sift me?  I just needed tea tree oil?  Astounding!”  This sort of triumphalism in regards to health is the oddest bait of all of them.  The Bible says far more about the connection between our passions (envy, lust, resentment) and our bodily health than it does about what we put into us.  Even then, we’re cautioned from assuming a cause/effect outlook:

“His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him.”  -John 9:3

We can’t rummage through God’s toolbox and eject the tools we don’t like.  They may be just the right ones to fix something in us that is very broken.

I stood in front of a room full of sixth graders and asked if I could share my favorite inspirational platitude.  They nodded, grinning because I had already proven myself funny and odd.  “Die” I said, raising up my hands to make exaggerated quote marks for dramatic effect.  “Shouldn’t I embroider it and border it with flowers; wouldn’t that be lovely on the wall?”  They laughed and maybe they didn’t know what to think.  “Dying to myself, my desires, dying each day, even imperfectly, always, always leads to joy.”  I asked them how they could die each day; in what ways could they deny themselves in order to serve others or Christ?  They had really good ideas; they may have had some dissonance, sure, because our culture swaddles youth with soothing words of self importance and self fulfillment and such.  No one tells them to “die”.

But we do seem to tell each other how to “live”, how to be happy, how to digest our food better via pills, how to melt fat around our tums with body wraps, how to use our social networks as ladders into our bright futures, how to be successful and bright and better looking, and brave.

How come no one is telling each other to die?  To embrace unavoidable suffering with an obstinate love, patience, and trust in Christ?  To see limited finances as a gift from a wise Father?  To not buy hundreds of dollars worth of pills and wraps and creams and oils, but rather to give that money away so toddlers can not swell up and die?  Because that kind of stuff gets my attention; that scratches where I’m itching.

 

Addressing the Elephant

The few days have passed since I wrote, with much fear and trembling, an unfavorable critique on multi-level marketing, specifically addressing how it places an undue, and monetarily-incentivizing, burden on natural social networks, you know, family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc.  Nothing I’ve ever written has been so broadly shared, nor have I ever received such a volume of private correspondence as a result.  It triggered a lot of response, and I believe I understand why.

I said what the friends, what the family, what the coworkers are too nice to say.  No one wants to be the heel that says, “Hey, this is getting ridiculous.  People are avoiding you and rolling their eyes when your name is mentioned because you’re a real live infomercial half the time.  I get that you’re happy, but you’re making others unhappy.”

Sometimes you’ve just got to mention the elephant.  But only if you care deeply about the other people in the room with you.  And I do.  So should you.

For those I offended, I wish you could see the emails I received; there’s a lot of broken relationships, a lot of rift, tension, and hurt.  For some it’s almost like a death occurred; their friend was never the same after they became a MLM seller, distributor, or whatever designation the MLM gives them.  Many people told me how they’d love to share my article but were too afraid of the backlash they’d get.  Others quietly unfriended on social media, tired of their feed being filled with MLM propaganda, even though they genuinely loved and cherished the ones posting such.

There’s been so much hurt.

Please consider…this isn’t “like any other business.”  Not.  At.  All.

Multi-Level Marketing Hurts Relationships (ack, I said it)

I was waiting for my kids’ bus in the hot May sunshine, my toddler lounging in his stroller, both of us wilting a bit.  A lady with a tot of her own approached, waiting for her kids as well.  We struck up a conversation, and within a minute there was a glossy Mary Kay or Herbalife or some-such catalog pressed into my hand.

“Um…I actually don’t use much on my skin other than coconut oil…I…uh…”  She wouldn’t take the thing back.  “Just look it over!  Let me know if you need anything; you can return it to me later if you don’t want to order”.  Right.  Thank you for saddling me with this catalog that I think you probably even had to buy, and which I will guiltily put into the trash, because this stuff is all expensive.

………………

A friend’s dad offered to drive me home from summer camp along with his daughter.  It was a two-hour drive during which he played back-to-back Amway motivational tapes.  I came home marveling that anyone who wanted to have everything they ever wanted, especially a mansion with horse stables, could certainly do so, if only they’d believe, reach their goals, become a Diamond, or a Super Duper, or a some-such.  I visited their home a year later and was sort of struck dumb by all their homemade posters with motivational phrases plastered all over the walls.  They lived in a very sad little home; I wondered when their ship was going to come in.  The posters said it was right around the corner.

…………………

I’ve been to my fair share of “parties”, even hosted one Pampered Chef one, mainly to please a friend and to eat snacks, but I felt like a heel.  I know how I felt when attending one; flipping through the catalog and thinking, “What is cheap enough that I can buy and not disappoint my friend by buying nothing.”  As I saw people I loved filling my living room I wondered if they were thinking the same thing, feigning the same “interest”.

There is a specific cringe I feel, and I don’t believe I’m alone in this, when anyone announces via social media that “I’m starting my own business!” and it’s one of the myriad of multi-level marketing companies.  Always the glowing triumphalism, the certainty of a changed life, the financial compensation to come, the invitations to parties, e-parties (which, I mean, there aren’t even snacks!!), and on and on.  After a while it seems my Facebook feed is one long infomercial.

And then there’s the heart-to-heart with a friend when all of a sudden they’re recommending one of their products as the solution to your problem, and you just feel sort of…used, targeted.  Like some marketing strategy or salesperson just butted-in where the intimacy of friendship was filling it’s healing, commiserating role.  C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Four Loves” remarks on the disinterested nature of true friendship, to be understood as not wanting the friendship for anything other than the friendship itself.  It is not a means to any other end.

“A friend will, to be sure, prove himself to be also an ally when alliance becomes necessary; will lend or give when we are in need, nurse us in our sickness, stand up for us among our enemies, do what he can for our widows and orphans.  But such good offices are not the stuff of Friendship.  The occasions for them are almost interruptions.  They are in one way relevant to it, in another not.  Relevant, because you would be a false friend if you would not do them when the need arose; irrelevant, because the role of the benefactor always remains accidental, even a little alien, to that of Friend.  It is almost embarrassing.  For Friendship is utterly free from Affection’s need to be needed.  We are sorry that any gift or loan or night-watching should have been necessary–and now, for heaven’s sake, let us forget all about it and go back to the things we really want to do or talk of together.  Even gratitude is no enrichment to this love.  The stereotyped ‘Don’t mention it’ here expresses what we really feel.  The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that having been given, it makes no difference at all.  It was a distraction, an anomaly.”  -C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves”

I do not disparage here the products themselves; I have no doubt that the clothing or the make-up or the essential oils or the purses, or whatever they are, are of high quality.  I do not doubt even that my friend’s lives have been enriched by their use.  I do not make argument against them developing true friendships with others they’ve met and interacted with in their meetings.  I take issue with the pyramid-like nature of the marketing.  Downlines reek of graft and greed, no matter what words are used to describe them, such as “teams” or “communities”.  And the carrot dangled before them of wealth, health, and all other pot-at-the-end-of-the-rainbows, all demand a price, and often that price is the health of the participant’s relationships.

One particular area of discomfort for me are the companies that supply “life-changing” supplements, oils, etc at extraordinarily high prices.  There is a strange philosophy at work there, something to the effect of:  this ____ can change your life, it is very expensive but so worth it, if you get enough people to buy it from you it’ll be basically free for you, and they’ll be changed too so you can feel good about your compensation from their purchases and their subsequent downlines.  My question is, if the product is so important for human thriving, why not lower the price of it and sell it via traditional means so that it doesn’t depend on burdening human relationships and can be more accessible to those who would benefit from it?

We have all been shocked and disgusted by the pharmaceutical drug company CEO Martin Shkreli who raised the price of life-saving AIDS medicine by 5,000% in an act of wanton greed.  Was it good for share-holders’s profits?  Sure.  Was it good “business”?  Maybe on paper.  But the cost to those who could benefit from the drug is much, much too high, literally and figuratively.  This is an extreme example, but hear the heart of it; “good business” may in fact, be bad.

I have been terrified to write this article and avoided it for several months, because many people I love and cherish are involved in multi-level marketing.  I risk the offense because I think some may be unaware of how their business is affecting their relationships in a negative way.  None of us wants to feel like a potential customer, potential downline, potential anything, other than friend.

burden