When friends turn into pitchmen

What do you get when you take an old high school friend, throw in a chance meeting at Tabor College?s homecoming weekend and an invitation to stay for a weekend, plus $10, a tiny water filter and a chance of a lifetime?

Answer: Absolutely nothing.

It was one of those times when you anticipate a reunion of former high school chums, where one can reminisce about old times and enjoy the day. One doesn?t always correctly anticipate the outcome, however.

The chance meeting and visit during the football game went quite well. From there, it was nothing I neither expected nor wanted.

Between the beginning of the game and the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, our conversation followed the normal course of events, along with updates on each other?s family and career.

Aware that my friend and his spouse traveled a great distance to visit their child attending Tabor College, I gave an invitation to stay at our home the next time they made the trip. I was prepared to follow through on my promise.

My logic was simple and straightforward. What?s the harm in giving a one-time invitation to stay and visit?

?Life? happens, and for better or worse, people do change. Isn?t it interesting when we get into these situations and let down our guard, thinking we know these people, we are prone to throw caution to the wind?

Now, fast-forward to the weekend, where my friend accepts the invitation. Between the brief tour of the house and evening chatter, the unexpected conversation begins with a comment about our Brita water filter.

Moments later, I find myself listening to a speech on the health-related advantages of using another filter, which cost only a few bucks more than the Brita.

Somewhere in the conversation?after the sales brochures appear from the traveling bag, along with other visual aids?there was talk of investing in an exclusive dealership and the promise of financial reward through an ?innovative? business structure that resembled a pyramid scheme.

The price of that tiny water filter miraculously rose from a few dollars to $10,000.

I walked right into that one. I was a traveling salesman?s dream. No cold calls, no doors slammed in the face or dogs to fight off. No cold stares or cynical comebacks. Just an open invitation to walk in and begin the sales pitch. Not to mention, the trip to visit family suddenly became a business expense, a tax deduction?minus a hotel bill.

The downside of this experience is simple. I lost the chance of renewing what I thought to be a good relationship with a former high school buddy and teammate. In danger of repeating the obvious, I didn?t know him as well as I thought. The greatest disappointment was he took advantage of my good will by bringing his sideline business into my home and treating me like one of his customers.

Not one to label all home-based businesses as questionable or unworthy, I?ve hesitated to publicly comment on this experience. Another recent experience with a different longtime, yet geographically distant, friend changed my mind.

It?s not that I have difficulty doing business with people I know. One cannot live in a small community and not do business with close social acquaintances. It?s the way we conduct ourselves in these relationships that differs from those where the line is crossed.

When making a sales pitch, the use of ?God language? is a dead giveaway that the line has been crossed. I?ve observed various renditions of ?God speak? prior to the introduction of a new line of products. In the recent experience the individual added, ?Oh, I prayed for you today.?

Thanks, I appreciate that. Can I pray for you, too? If we don?t talk about this product, will you still be praying for me? Would you have called to visit if you were not selling this product? What happens to this relationship if I don?t buy anything and decline your invitation to invest in this venture? Are we still friends?

From the looks of things and no subsequent contacts, I guess not.

One thing is certain. I am keeping my Brita water filter and am more than willing to purchase its usual replacement, provided it does not come with an expensive franchise agreement and an assurance that it?s God?s will that I put my money down.

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