Toe-MAY-toe vs. Toe-MAH-toe


The story begins like this: At a small, and no doubt Southern Baptist, church in the hills of Appalachians a fire and brimstone travelling revival preacher had come to save the masses.

The room was packed with repentant sinners. They were happy, soaking up the company of friends, family and the gospel. With Christmas around the corner, a good year for the harvest – there were no cares or worries burdening any of their souls. The preacher was good at his job, he was building suspense, his voice growing in an increasing crescendo. As the lights sparkled in his eyes and spittle flecked his lips a sudden BANG! was heard at the back of the church. The double doors slammed open, the lights popped and dimmed and all the air was sucked from the room in a collective gasp hundreds strong.

A great horned head, partially shielded by a black robe with sleeves that ended in yellow-clawed hands wrapped around a pitchfork, entered the foyer. Smoke trailed behind him, his inky black eyes swallowing the light as he laughed. The congregation immediately ran as one body. Hundreds of pounding footsteps heading for the doors, the traveling preacher at the head of the pack. The beast laughed and pointed at the solitary human who was still calmly sitting in his pew; a smug look on his face and a twinkle in his eye.

“Don’t you know,” roared the beast, “who I am?”

“You’re the devil,” replied the aged man.

“Why aren’t you scared and running from me like the rest of those sheep?”

At that the old man slowly stood up, gather his cane underneath him to ease the burden. He looked the devil in the eye and calmly said, “Because I was married to your sister for 44 years. I know all about you and your kind!”

The devil promptly left.


This week I seemed to have gotten involved in a lot of conversations about perception. The last one was a joke told to me by a fellow in the TIG welding class I was teaching. It was about 40 degrees in the shop and he came over to tell me this joke after I had just critiqued his last welds. I thought it was a fitting end to a thought study on perception. Everyone else in the congregation was scared of their first encounter with the devil. The old man was used to the idea, his perception of what was bad and scary was vastly different from everyone else’s.

The second incident (in reverse chronological order of course) happened a few days earlier while I was scraping bad epoxy out of a cabinet door front that I have been working on. A fellow woodworker had just come up and brightened my day by handing me a few oranges from his backyard fruit tree. He gave some to everyone in the shop – notably to a shop helper whom we’ll call Jared.

While I was peeling my oranges and enjoying the flavor, Jared walked up with his in hand and set them down on the work table. He looked me right in the eye and asked, “Do you know why I like oranges?” I said that I didn’t know. “I like them because you can set them anywhere and they don’t get dirty.”

How’s that for perception? I like oranges because they are a healthy snack that’s easy to pack in my lunch and I like the flavor. Cody thinks they are great for eating when you’re in the shop away from a white tablecloth. We both got the same fruit and perceive its positive qualities as polar opposite ideas. One fruit, two perceptions.

Lastly, or firstly, I had a conversation with someone about their coworkers. This coworker had a decent job and enjoyed the same presumed standard of living as everyone else at the company. However, this particular person was always asking for the leftovers from everyone else’s lunch. Now, in this day and age, this is unfortunately considered to be strange behavior, instead of a waste-not want-not lifestyle. Everyone poked and teased this individual for his frugal ways, not realizing his real reasons. It turns out that this admirable young person was fully paying for his younger sibling’s college tuition. He pinched pennies and silently sacrificed himself for the gain of others. Everyone’s perception of him was wrong – resulting in a serious case of foot-in-mouth disease.

Immediately I began to think of how this relates to my customers. I have a perception of who they are, or rather, who I want them to be. Cool, trendy millennials that spend more money on beard oil than they do on cable TV. Young couples that drink kombucha from hand carved cups acquired during their travels through South America. In reality, my perception is way off. My customers, your customers are normal people who likely don’t live in designer inspired houses that are always ready for a magazine shoot. They are people with struggles and we are blessed when they decide to spend their hard earned money on the products we make.

With that in mind, I ask that you do your part to keep your prices fair, your products honest and your marketing above the belt. Don’t have the perception that your customers are here to serve and provide for you by buying stuff. You never really know what’s going on beneath the surface – just as the three guys in my perception anecdotes had different perceptions that you probably did when you heard the story.

I’ll leave you with this. I can’t figure out if it’s a joke or not (let’s hope so) but don’t be like this. We can all make, produce, market and sell reasonable products to reasonable people. Happy Holidays to all!

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