A friend of mine works in the automotive industry, and about ten years ago he taught me a lesson that his father taught him years before that. “When you walk into a Porsche dealership, be kind, friendly, and respectful to every salesmen and every manager you meet. One day, one of these salesmen will own a dealership and one day they may become the CEO of Porsche.” I don’t spend much time in Porsche dealerships, but nevertheless I took my friend’s advice to heart and have used it many times in many situations.
I was reminded of that lesson as I learned the Mishnah Pirkei Avos/Ethics Of The Fathers (4:3). The Mishnah teaches us, “Ben Azai said, ‘don’t treat anyone or anything poorly no matter what their stature, for there is no person who does not have his time and no thing that does not have its place.’”
On the surface it seems that the Mishnah is teaching us this same valuable sales lesson: do not assume that because the person in front of you does not have power today that they will never have power in the future. Yet, something tells me that we need to look deeper. Is the Mishnah simply giving us sales advice? Is that the primary reason that we should be respectful and kind to everyone? Shouldn’t the Mishnah be focusing us on the intrinsic value of each person?
Midrash Shmuel explains this Mishnah in the following way. You may not see the value or importance of the person in front of you, but you can be assured that in the Almighty’s view of and plan for the world they play a vital role. The Mishnah is teaching us that we, incorrectly, tend to see our world as black and white and here and now. We see this world as a binary existence with ourselves at the center. We need to learn to take a step back, stretch our worldview, and appreciate that there is incredible nuance and significance beyond our understanding. Why did the Almighty create my annoying friend, co-worker, employee or boss? Why did the Almighty create the person in whose existence I see no consequence? The Mishnah is teaching us that we may never know why, yet we must remember that they play a vital role in God’s plan for us and the world.
Getting back to the Porsche salesperson, if you are in the automotive industry you now have two reasons to be kind and respectful to him. He may be a big mover and shaker in the Porsche world in 20 years from now, but more importantly, he definitely is a big mover and shaker in God’s ultimate plan for this world.