A Marketplace In Heaven: a Parable
Posted August 12, 2006
Once upon a time long ago, there lived a family consisting of a father and his many children. Seeing his older sons somewhat idle and non-productive, the father decided to set up a family business on their behalf, as he himself in his youth had earned a business degree from a noteworthy institute .The children were to run the business but being uneducated, they relied totally on the father's advice, which certainly was freely forthcoming.
And so he asked his children to advertise the business widely, very much stressing the need for "getting the message out". Unfortunately, to the siblings great regret, he passed away soon after, bequeathing in his will the family business to his children, along with all the responsibilities and rewards to be garnered therefrom...
The children continued to advertise the business widely, and many newcomers came and bought their goods, and in that respect the business was a grand success. However, they noticed a curious phenomenon: they never had the same customer twice. Strangely, each customer, after responding once to their grand advertisements, would never return again to do business. "Well" said one sibling to the others "I think it is just that --the *economic climate*is bad!" Upon hearing this, most of the siblings were greatly impressed by what seemed to be a profound analysis, though actually it was just something that he had read, but wasn't sure if it were true.
"But why are other businesses not suffering as much as ours?" postulated one particularly observant sibling. Unfortunately, the astute remark was not appreciated in the family, and the ill-fated thinker got a blast of accusations such as "Now you are showing your true colours, you envious snake!" "So you think you could do better than our dear father, eh?" and "well why don't you just start another business then?" Seeing the tirade, some of the siblings who had once had the same observation, quickly put it out of their minds. They went about advertising the business even more diligently, proving to the others their deep commitment.
But this was profoundly dissatisfying to one or two, who dearly loved the family, and wanted to see them succeed. They quietly slipped outside the fold and enrolled in business studies to learn what they were doing wrong. For many years they studied and studied- the books of great economists and businessmen, who never erred in their capacity for maximizing success. They thought about their family, struggling so, and this spurred them on to study more.
Meanwhile, the siblings who had stayed at home, came upon desperate times. There was hardly enough trade now to put food on the table. They blamed each other, tried to advertise even harder, and again they blamed the economy. And now they had another scapegoat- they blamed their siblings who had left them. This was done with gusto, for amid the misery of failure, there was a lingering sense of self-righteousness to this condemnation. They were not among the siblings who had disserted the family. They were loyal. During the course of their studies, one of the student siblings felt that he might have stumbled across the cause of the first-time customers not returning. It was during a module called "customer satisfaction", an analysis which seemed to directly address their problems. It wasn't that the goods were inferior, but rather that the customers were treated impersonally, denigrated to sources of cash, rather than respected as fellow human beings . During their business transactions, as soon as the siblings got their money, they would lose all interest to spend a moment longer in social interaction. They would even turn their back on the humiliated customer, who would then walk out the door without so much as a "have a good day!" This pronounced lack of social graces was, surprisingly, totally overlooked by the siblings themselves, and the reason was twofold...
Firstly, it was the modus operandi of the family. The family members were valued only inasmuch as they were able to contribute to the wages earned, with the result that one mentally challenged sibling in particular was treated as less than human.
Secondly, they felt they were above social niceties, as that was how other families functioned, and they were quite convinced that they were superior to other families in their township. This astonishing attitude was due to the fact that they were the only family who had a member who had earned a PhD- their father. It led to a certain disdain of non-family members, whom they labeled "outsiders", quite often abbreviated to "outies" in sarcastic reference to the outside toilets of the same name. And so, naturally they felt no compunction to value their feelings and emotional needs. They were important only insofar as they contributed to the family.
Eventually, love compelled the now well-educated siblings to return and share the knowledge learnt. Firstly, they discussed how to do it. One decided to write a book about how to run the family business successfully. Another decided to start his own business using the principles of his father and the great businessmen before him, inviting the family to share in the profits. They realized in their discussions that their father had indeed instructed them several times to "value the customer" but that they had not paid attention. So they reminded their siblings both in writing and in practice of this great principle. They were returned with a great deal of cursing and disgust, and warnings that they would be disowned and "no longer our brothers" if they continued on. In particular, they were accused of "going against our father" or of not being a " *Father's man*". They called the books and alternative business practice "offensive" though it was unclear how it was so.
Eventually, the scholarly siblings gave the family up as "hopeless" but went on taking advantage of their learning anyway. Their businesses flourished, as did their personal lives, and they didn't transgress ever any of their dear Father's valued principles, but rather honoured them by following his life's example. After all, it was out of love that their father had himself once gone outside his family, just to gather knowledge and skills in order to benefit it. And they, his sons, heirs to his legacy, were just following in his footsteps. That, to them, was clear proof of their loyalty and devotion. They needed no stamp of approval.
Time passed, and along with its passage, all the family members passed on
to that great marketplace in the sky (or somewhere); the bodies of the
so-called loyal ones buried close to their father to be honoured by future
generations, the "deserters" buried in unmarked graves. But to this day, a
business goes on and a book is being read in which whispers of the old
father are felt. And every now and then you can look a businessman in the
eye and feel the presence of the father, the touch of his hand coming out in
the honesty and integrity of his dealings, or the kindness or the wisdom of
his speech. And you go away with something that has no price at all. A
marketplace in heaven.