Imagine you’re sitting down to dinner with your family. As you start the meal, you hear an unexpected knock at your front door.
You don’t recognize the person, but you know this is not a conversation you want to have, not now. The visitor will be selling a product, asking for votes, or collecting donations.
How do you react? Ideally, you’ll treat them with kindness and respect, even as you explain that this is a bad time.
Now replace the knock at the door with a phone call. In a nutshell, this is the telemarketing industry. So why do we treat those at our doors differently than those on our phones?
I shouldn’t speak for everyone. Perhaps you have more patience, grace, and love for telemarketers than I do. (You almost surely do.)
A cable company representative called recently and tried to up-sell me. In the process, the caller put me on hold twice. I got angry, and I spoke in a way I immediately regretted.
Whether from a saleman, a pollster, or someone raising money for charity, I’m not inclined to listen to unsolicited phone calls for very long. I assume I’ve heard everything they have to say, I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt, and I dismiss them quickly. This has been my pattern.
Loving My Neighbor
God convicted me through this phone call. He made each of these people; they are my neighbors. They deserve love and respect.
Though their work interrupts and annoys me, it is legitimate work. I shouldn’t treat them poorly just because I am inconvenienced.
So often I get my standards wrong. If I think someone doesn’t deserve my respect, they don’t get it. But that’s obviously the wrong approach!
The gospel changes everything. God didn’t treat me the way I deserve. In fact, he treated Jesus the way I deserve (with wrath) and he treats me as his son. This is amazing, glorious, life-altering love.
And this love now fuels our behavior. We can treat others better than they deserve because that’s how we’ve been treated. Our standard of love must be Jesus’s standard. He doesn’t just provide an example; he gives me the power to change and to love those who annoy and interrupt me.
Can I Hang Up?
One last thought. Is it ever acceptable to hang up on a telemarketer?
Treating someone with love and respect doesn’t mean we always do what they want. Though we’re called to die to ourselves, this doesn’t mean we’re always pushovers.
We’ve all probably been on the phone in the telemarketer spiral. You say no; they protest, provide a reason, and ask for something slightly different. This pattern continues, and at some point they stopped listening to you. (Has anyone ever changed their mind because of this persistence? I’ve said no five times already, but since you asked a sixth time, sign me up!)
I think it’s fine to hang up the phone in certain situations. The caller is following their company-dictated script. If, after respectfully telling them you’re not interested, they ignore you and press ahead, I think they lose their right to your attention. I usually hang up at this point, trying not to be angry at the person.