Intentionally Unreasonable: Hollow doors, empty promises

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There is only one thing more soul crushing, mind numbing and depressing than going door-to-door selling something, and that is being on the other side of the door – being sold.

Be it Ginsu-sharp cutlery from Cutco, typhoon-suction vacuum cleaners from Kirby, shiny tin roofs from painfully dull tin-men, eternal spiritual salvation from a walking army of dark-suited guys with ties and pants universally 4 inches too short, or the political zombies (candidates) that show up every year selling the amorphous product of hope, it all feels bad.

(Lone exception: Girl Scouts and their delicious Thin Mint cookies. I’ve been known to run out into my street yelling to Girl Scouts passing by, “please don’t miss my house!”)

For the person trolling and strolling the hot pavement or icy sidewalk, pushing the doorbell, and bracing for an angry dog or angrier dog owner, it’s a demeaning and demoralizing exercise in human subordination and rejection.

The internal torment and conflict of feeling lousy on the inside, while constantly projecting clown-face happiness on the outside, creates an emotional whiplash more painful than a dozen blisters. Every “please go away … I don’t want anything you’re selling” is a rejection of your product and an insult to your personal dignity.

These through-the-door vocal exchanges represent one of the few human transactions where rudeness, discourtesy and directed opprobrium are all on the menu of acceptable behavior.

For the huddled homeowner inside, a strange person or small tribe of strange people knocking on your door, ringing your doorbell, or saying “hello, hello …” through an open window is generally received as an interaction that falls somewhere on the spectrum of mild annoyance, to tense intrusion and unwanted confrontation.

Rarely do people react to door-to-door sales people with, “Oh good, I was hoping someone would interrupt my dinner/kid’s homework/’Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ binge with a breathless, hype-infused sales pitch at my front door.”

An added dimension of resistance to door-to-door sales in today’s world is personal risk and safety. Opening your door to a stranger is an act of faith and submission to vulnerability. Absent a pre-existing relationship or context, there is no way of knowing the mental, emotional or physical state of the stranger in front of you. That is why police say “domestic calls” are the riskiest for them.

Is the person on the other side of the door angry? Did they get fired that day? Is the door-to-door salesperson just trying to sell an overpriced product, or are they trying to scam you or exploit you and your family in some way.

Sadly, our senior citizens are particularly vulnerable. The combination of being at home much of the time and predisposed to wanting and welcoming more human interactions often make them easy prey.

My conclusion: the practice of strange people knocking on strange doors selling unwanted products (except Thin Mints) needs to end.

That’s why I’m calling for every politician (and their surrogates) here in Maine to stop “knocking on doors” as the practice is commonly called.

Like unwanted locusts, they appear every spring for local elections and primaries, and then every other fall for congressional and presidential elections, they show up on our streets with happy feet, plastic smiles and sheets of political propaganda.

I hate when they come to my door in part because I know how much I hated going to theirs over the course of my six years of political engagement.

During two successful town council campaigns, and unsuccessful U.S. and state Senate campaigns, I estimate that I knocked on more than 8,000 doors across much of southern Maine. Of that universe of homes, I can count on one hand the number of substantive conversations that I had with informed residents/voters about my campaign or meaningful policy issues.

I did hear “I despise all politicians, please leave me alone,” “the government (stinks) and so do you,” “I never vote so you don’t matter to me,” and an entire list of other comments of the same bitter flavor.

The problem with knocking on doors in the political world is that it creates an illusion for voters (albeit a small number) that the person knocking really cares about them, while reinforcing the delusion embraced by the politician that he is really gaining insight and understanding from their constituency.

Both are wrong.

Two years ago I attended a Maine Democratic Party meeting led by state Sen. Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves. The purpose of the meeting was to help new Democratic candidates, and those seeking re-election, run successful campaigns. Much of the meeting focused on what is considered by many political pundits to be the biggest political tool in the campaign toolbox: doors.

A local Democratic campaign guru led a lengthy discussion on various techniques for opening doors, which included this gem: “I check the weather and I like to focus on rainy, cold, miserable days. This really makes voters more sympathetic and likely to vote for you.”

Later, those in the audience who were deemed experts at doors were celebrated as conquering political heroes: “Jim had 678 doors last week – way to go, Jim. Sally really worked her doors for a total of 636 – all during multiple thunderstorms.”

It felt cheap because it was.

None of it was associated with doing the actual work of being an elected official, or the requisite understanding or competency needed to lead complex governmental process. It was just one long Amway pep rally.

Democracy shouldn’t be sold like kitchen utensils, encyclopedias or cleaning products.

Voters have a greater responsibility to seek out and engage with politicians during each election because it matters, not because someone knocked on their door. And politicians must focus on delivering real insights and critical thinking that will help solve our many serious challenges.

So unless you’re a Girl Scout selling delicious cookies, please don’t knock on my door to sell me something. I’m not buying.

Neither should you.

Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard each Saturday at 11 a.m. on WLOB-AM 1310.

  • Ted

    “So unless you’re a Girl Scout selling delicious cookies, please don’t knock on my door to sell me something. I’m not buying.”

    I’m with you, but that’s not half the problem as the telephone haranguing that goes on seven days a week. It’s gotten so that some days I get upwards of ten solicitation calls, most of which I don’t answer, but all of which are intrusions into the interior of my home, let alone the front door.

    As someone who receives important calls from doctors, billing departments, and my health insurance company, being jumped by any kind of phone solicitation is decidedly unhelpful. And yes, I’m on the government’s Do Not Call list. What a joke that is!

    • Stevoe

      Agreed – telephone solicitation is another huge intrusion and generally unwanted/unneeded beast. And it’s getting worse now with cell phones being targeted at all hours too.

  • Chew H Bird

    The world has changed… My paternal grandfather was a very successful door to door cookie salesman for the National Biscuit Company. He worked is was up to being a cookie salesman and was eminently proud of being the first person on his block to have a car with an actual heater. He would proudly bring boxes of cookies for holidays and explain the glorious packaging innovations to keep them fresh. After his retirement (with a very good pension) a trip to the grocery store consisted of his examining the cookie aisle for a long time reading the box labels and examining the packaging so he could explain all the difference to us.

    Growing up in Falmouth we had a milkman who would offer us additional items. Cushman’s bakery would deliver as well and would offer us additional items. We had a door to door insurance man who sold us life insurance, a vacuum cleaner person who sold us out vacuum, and our washer and dryer were purchased from a door to door salesperson. Our family doctor even made house calls. Some of these people became lifelong friends of our family.

    The world has changed. No longer do we offer coffee and tea to the door to door person and, maybe more importantly, they would never accept it in today’s world. The door to door of today is not relationship building or creating a long term customer but verifying actual contact with as many people as possible to verify that actual human to human contact has been made to satisfy some corporate, political, or religious outreach goal.

    I do wish the Girl Scouts would visit us with cookies but alas we are relegated to their spot in front of a large big box store… The world has changed.

    • Stevoe

      The milkman delivery visits a couple times a week are embedded as fond childhood memories. Special runs of eggnog during the holidays and other seasonal treats that landed in the metal box on our porch in clinky glass bottles – delivered by a “friend” who knew everyone’s name.

      Those were the days – when friend really meant “friend” and not some electronic click with what is a frequently – a virtual digital stranger.

      • Queenie42

        In the winter the cream on top of the bottle would freeze and push the cardboard cover up and over if someone wasn’t home to take the milk in. But in those days mothers were usually at home.
        Does anyone remember the cards we would put in the window if we needed milk, ice, laundry, etc.?

  • Queenie42

    On a hot August day no one was more welcome than the ice man delivering large blocks of blue ice (it really looked blue) for our Mum’s ice box. He would always chip off big chunks of ice for us kids to eat although most of it melted down our chins and clothes. It was almost as good as watermelon, the kind with the black seeds that we could spit out at each other.
    Nowadays we have refrigerators and freezers, ice makers or bagged ice but no ice can beat that ice delivered in a big truck filled with sawdust or wood shavings for insulation.
    And those old oak ice boxes in good condition can sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars.