Friday, May 29, 2009

The “No Soliciting” Sign

How to Say No with Spirit and Sensitivity

My feelings and intent behind my homemade No Soliciting sign have changed over the years. In the ‘70s, when I was learning to let my inner rebel out from under wraps, I was too angry to argue about religion with anyone without exploding. I didn’t have much money to spare. I was a softie, an easy mark. The best defense was a good offense for someone who had a terrible time saying no. I had to find a sales resistance strategy, if I didn’t want my credit card debt to become even worse. Any door-to-door salesman who made me feel sorry for him was a sure-fire leak in my bank account. Not only that, I’ve always been a rather avid consumer. “Money burns a hole in your pocket,” my mom used to say. She never wondered where I learned this habit.

I’d become irate with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Who were they to preach to me? To assume I wasn’t saved or needed saving? I’d learned early on that arguing with them was futile. It wasn’t until the Latter Day Saints and Scientologists started coming to the door that I’d had enough. When saving my soul became multi-denominational effort, that’s when I invented the sign. Ironically, this was during the most godless era of my life.

In the early years of the sign, it only had the first sentence after Please No Soliciting, Religion and religious literature included. It was a barely polite way of saying, “Go away. I don’t want whatever you have to sell, including religion.” I wanted to rub it in their faces that they were treating God like mammon, no better than a vacuum cleaner or women’s cosmetics sold door-to-door. My hostility was barely veiled. And if they dared to ring my doorbell in spite of it, I’d point at the sign, fume, and ask them if they could read. If they dared get snippy back, I’d go ballistic.

When I was only 22, one salesman had called me a “spitfire,” and made no bones about the fact that it turned him on.

I used to laugh and internally deny when an old client of mine would accuse me, on occasion, of “mellowing” over the years that we knew each other. Those mellow moments were only glimmers of mellow yet to come. Looking back at my twenty something self from the wisdom years, I barely recognize that version of me as the same person I am now. I still have the sign, but the feeling behind it is completely different. So are some of the reasons for it.

First, I work at home. I honestly can’t afford the interruptions. Second, I’m on a “pay things off and save” campaign, so I’m not buying much. When you add house calls to save my soul on top of the sales people, mail carrier, UPS, FedEx, and other delivery services for the necessities I do buy, I’d spend my entire day trotting back and forth to the door. I’d get nothing done.

Besides, my soul is completely covered. In the intervening years, I’ve gotten God a lot—more spirituality than religion, although I’ve gotten some of that, too. I spent the entire thirty years since I first invented the sign working on that project. I honestly don’t think I need extra help. That sentiment hasn’t changed, although the spirit and reasons for the conclusion have changed a lot. I’ve looked at lots of religions and paths. I’ve done due diligence. I’ve learned to love and appreciate the good in all religions. I’ve grown into a mature, spiritual adult. I’ve made my conclusions and have allowed my journey to take me wherever it leads me with great results … including the irony of taking me back to where I began in my original faith for some desperately needed healing with religion in general.

What has changed is the hostility. I don’t have it anymore. The ‘70s, when the sign began, were difficult years of my own life. I wasn’t just angry with Jehovah’s Witnesses; I think I was secretly angry with God. My life wasn’t going well. I didn’t know what to do about it.

But when the hostility changed, that’s when I knew I had to edit the sign. That’s when I added the second sentence, Bless you for respecting our privacy and spiritual path. It’s my way of saying I bless yours and every spiritual path based on love; please bless mine. Live and let live.

I hadn’t made one of the signs for a while then the doorbell ringing was starting to irritate my husband a few months back. In its most recent incarnation, I added the Dove of Peace to the sign. Maybe it was my inner hippie, flashing back to the ‘70s where the sign began and the two-finger peace sign was the greeting of the day. I just want the stop at my door to be a blessing, even if I am too busy or budget committed to buy or talk.

By now, I even appreciate that people of certain religious denominations believe there’s only one path to salvation, and it’s their responsibility to go on missions--to proselytize and to introduce people to The Way. I still don’t have time or need for their calls, but now it’s not personal or a result of my diffuse anger and misery.

The other day, a very slight and rather nerdy looking man with thick glasses rang the bell. He was selling siding and other home fixit services. I listened to him politely. I wouldn’t say I was short with him, but I told him clearly; we’re unable to do anything now. However, “Please leave your brochure. I want it. We may be able to do something later.”

My husband asked me why I didn’t point out the sign.

“I don’t know. I think he needed money, and sales work is not something he’s really comfortable with. I think he’s an introvert. I didn’t want him to feel rejected when it was difficult for him to do this kind of thing. I just felt for him.”

We learn. We live. We grow.

But some things never change or go out of style like compassion.

Thank God.


Eileen Williams said...

As always, you've made me think and I ended my reading with tears in my eyes. Yes, it is a blessing to grow older, more mellow, and (hopefully) more tolerant. I, too, took umbrage when a relative thought I needed saving. Perhaps she was right but, nevertheless, I didn't want to hear it. Now, however, I can look back on the incident and realize her intentions were the best and she was just trying to help.
LOVE your sign, by the way--just the right blend of peace and privacy.

Joyce Mason said...

Eileen, I'm so glad you're a frequent visitor to this blog and openly tell me when I move you! Thanks for remembering what we writers live for--and thanks for sharing your parallel experiences.

The sign has sure evolved over the years. Who knows what it'll say in the future?