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Many years ago when I was undergoing Army Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, I was assigned to mentor, as my SF buddy, an airborne infantry lieutenant from a sub-Saharan African country who was attending the same course as a guest of the United States government. At the time, his country’s government had friendly relations with the USA. Due to changing political winds over the past two decades, I will have to refer to my SF buddy as “MSB” in this essay to insure his continued safety. Why? He is a prominent politician in his homeland these days, and there are those who might use an “American connection” against him.
During one of our many camo-clad jaunts through the woods of rural western North Carolina, we got turned around (big time) and had to sneak out to a nearby dirt road junction to determine our exact location. As we approached that intersection, we noticed three white males exiting from the side door of a nearby church and heading for a battered Ford F-100 pick up parked nearby.
Before I could counsel MSB to sit tight and observe, he bounded out of the woods with his M-16A1 rifle slung over his right shoulder and his map & compass held in his right hand. Smiling widely and waving, he approached the three men directly and introduced himself.
Let’s just say that these “three musketeers” were not exactly Steve Forbes and two of his financial advisors, nor were they military personnel, given their slovenly appearance and their long, unkempt hair. They were definitely locals. Judging by the shocked looks on their faces, the clan with which they were likely most familiar did not wear kilts or get together to sing “Loch Lomond” or talk about the unsuccessful Jacobite uprising of 1745 against the British Crown.
As I watched, horror struck, from about 25 meters away, MSB greeted them all personally, shook hands all around, and then placed his map on the hood of the F-100. Ever the gentleman, MSB asked the three musketeers polite questions about their pickup truck, about the Winchester Model Model 94 30-30 rifle in their truck’s gun rack, and about their church. He expressed admiration for the utility of their truck, praised the slim, functional design of their rifle, and commented about the simple beauty of the exterior of the church.
All the while, the stunned three musketeers were staring at the prominent ceremonial tribal scarring on his face and at his filed teeth. One of the men finally said, “Boy, you’re not from around here, are you?” MSB, smiling, replied with the name of his home town and his country of origin, but he did not mention Africa at all. The same musketeer then asked, “That ain’t down near Charlotte, is it?” MSB charged right ahead verbally. He delighted in telling his newly found American pals about the exact location of his hometown and country on the continent of Africa. I recall that “Woo eee!” was the collective response.
Without missing a beat, MSB asked what game the men hunted with their Winchester rifle. The response was “deer.” MSB replied that he had been required to hunt lion with a spear when he was a teenager. You should have seen the widening of the three musketeers’ eyes. Just minutes later, MSB, raised by Christian missionaries, was being given a guided tour of the interior of the three musketeers’ church. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Finally, just before we departed, the three musketeers checked our map carefully and gave us some solid tips on how to navigate around local obstacles. The three musketeers slapped MSB’s back and he slapped theirs, and they exchanged hearty good wishes and genuine pleasantries as if they were close friends or relatives. Wow. Make that "Whew!"
As we jogged back into the woods, I gave MSB a Cliff Notes version of black-white relations in the rural American South and advised him that he could have been killed. His response? “Chris, sometimes, you Americans worry too much about unimportant things. In this case, my skin color. Here in North Carolina, we go out at night on weekends to Hardees to get burgers to eat. Where I live, if we go out at night, something will surely be seeking to eat us. What was the worst thing that could have happened to me here? Maybe God could have pushed me to work a little bit harder to make the three white men be unafraid of my face. Hey, we are good to go! I just made three brand new friends!” He meant it.
MSB, totally unafraid and unaware of existing prejudices, sold three customers the color black (with visible “paint damage”) in a very tight spot where the same customers were conditioned to want and accept only the color white. It was a lesson in the power of courage combined with courtesy that I will never forget as long as I shall live. Courage + courtesy = sale made with perfect CSI to follow!
Christopher Ferris c 603.233.8759 email@example.com