Column: Virtue or vice: lessons from a used car lot

This tale is about pride and humility. It begins with me being an uncomprehending jackass and ends with me being an insensitive one. This won’t be a first or last. A scratch-off came to me in the mail one day near the end of last year: that awful, awful year. This scratch-off promised me a free television if I would just go down to a used car dealership. You can guess whether I received a prize.

I am a graduate fellow in communication. I was fooled by one of the oldest marketing cons. I can say that the scratch-off graphics were deliberately designed to fool people. The fine print was legally constructed and gave the real chances of receiving a TV clearly enough to anyone who read it. A sales associate explained all of this to me. Humility, had I let it win, would have motivated a shameful retreat. Pride, however, goeth before the fall.

Upon feigning interest in a trade-in to see an upper level sales associate, I coldly informed this person that their scratch-off prize promotion was fundamentally deceitful. I scolded that legal and ethical are not the same thing. This person asked, “What do you do for a living, sir?” I said I was a university instructor. The look of contempt that changed the associate’s features was subtle, yet unmistakable. It was also deserved.

I could have chosen to mobilize my education to gentler and sympathetic ends. I did not. Instead, I lorded it over someone trying to hustle for their daily bread, in a high-pressure environment that I will probably never be a part of. Rather than appealing to our common humanity, I chose to distinguish myself from this worker. On the drive home, although I knew I was morally right, I felt quite empty. That exchange and its infinite daily variations, I thought, are why elites are being told in growing numbers to go to hell.

Humility is at the front of all virtue. Pride, a prime root of evil. All we can do when we perform wrongly is remember this and try again. As we leave for the summer, or for new adventures, let us be humble servants of the good. That is what education is for.

Thanks for reading.

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