Yesterday, my sister and I were shopping at a bulk food store.
I needed some yeast and some spelt flour ( and some sliced almonds and surprisingly, some chocolate covered pretzels- turns out I needed all of these items!) After we got to the store a truck pulled up next to us LOADED down with beautiful FRESH veggies!
A distinguished looking older man got out of the truck and addressed us and a group of ladies standing in front of the store eating ice cream cones with their children. “Ladies, I have some fresh produce from my garden, if you are interested. “
Being always interested, we went over to look at a lovely array of vegetables and several large watermelons.
“How much for the zucchini ?” the lady asked.
” However much you think it is worth.” he replied.
She backed away slightly- this in not an answer that she could deal comfortably with. Then she started talking nervously while she started selecting from the baskets and boxes, piling up a mound of vegetables that would have cost at least $20 in my experienced farmer’s market opinion.
” So, how much for this?” She asked again.
“How much do you want to pay?”
“I don’t know… how much do you want?”
He smiled and had pity on her. “How about $4? Do you think it is worth $4?”
She reached into her purse, pulled out the bills and whisked her pile into bags-calling to her children who were sticky by now with ice cream dripping down their arms and faces-” Come on. Help me get this into the car!”
Cynthia and I had been picking out our vegetables while they transacted their business (although the lady had taken ALL of the available courgettes and I was a little miffed at her) . We had a small watermelon, 2 eggplants, a package of lima beans and 4 jalapeno peppers,a tomato and 2 onions.
“Well, Ladies, is there anything else I can help you get?”
“No thank you- your vegetables are truly lovely.”
” I supply a local college and this is what is left over after they took what they want. Sure you can’t use any more of those peppers?”
Smiling, we gave him $10 dollars and went into the bulk store to pick up my flour and other necessities.
He was sitting on a lawn chair next to his truck when we came back out.
“Have a nice day ladies!” he called out to us.
We turned and asked what college he grew his vegetables for. He named a college in a nearby city and said that he had been a professor there and after retiring he had taken up gardening and loved it.
I asked what he had taught and he smiled and said, “Ethics. Business and otherwise. But no one ever paid much attention to what I said or taught.”
We got into the car and drove off. I was thinking, ethics. The man taught ethics and then gave people an opportunity to pay what they thought things were worth.
It was like an episode of ” What would you do?” with John Quinones. A small experiment into human nature- when offered the opportunity of a huge bargain or a fair price- what avenue do you take? Do you pay the least possible or give what the market value is currently? Do you do the right thing or take advantage?
And what is the right thing in this situation and in these times?
It should have been a simple trip into the country, but I was suddenly looking very seriously at myself and wondering. I think we gave a fair price. It was not a GOOD price- he certainly could have asked for more and I would have paid it.
I came away thinking about equity- about how often we look for an edge over others and hope for a chance to get a good deal. My children have educate me into the concept of fair trade globally, I try to buy locally and organically when I can afford it, and I have cut down on using paper and plastic bags by using a cloth bag- these are not concepts I learned at my mother’s knee – but at my children’s requests and reminders. But was does that mean when someone says – “Pay what you think it is worth.” I think it is worth more than I could afford!
I am blown away by the hard work and dedication it takes to bring a garden to harvest and then load it up and sell it at a stand. I worked for my neighbours down the road to help in their stand for a season, when my friend developed cancer. I truly appreciate the labor and beauty of the vegetables.
And so we paid our $10. Not an unreasonable offering. He was satisfied. We were happy. It was within the realm of the ethical that I got tripped up, later.
from Wikipedia– also
Post-structuralism and postmodernism argue that the world is relational; therefore, ethics must study the complex situation of actions. A simple alignment of idea of right and particular act is not possible. There will always be a remainder that is part of the ethical issue that cannot be taken into account in a relational world. Such theorists find narrative to be a helpful tool for understanding ethics because narrative is always about particular life stories in all their lived complexity rather than consist of a the assignment of an idea or norm to an action.
Really- all I wanted was a fresh watermelon.