In all societies it is much easier to copy others than to be yourself. When I was a therapist I found that most of those who came to see me were not happy with their lives yet do not want to pay the price for learning how to make the best of themselves. Two common excuses were they wanted to find a partner “I would be fine if I had someone to come home to” and “just help me to get better by curing my phobias, anorexia, obesity, inability to make friends or whatever”. When I told them I do not do miracles they spent their time with me doing their best to avoid what they needed to understand. It was frustrating work. Some left after a while and a few eventually managed to work things out for themselves with my guidance.
Earlier in my life I ran my second-hand bookshop in the centre of Cambridge and it was amazingly successful. The day I opened there was a queue from the shop to the Round Church. My son and I spent a lot of time travelling looking for books and doing book fairs. We had many customers including some well-known people.
Saturday was the busiest day of the week. One afternoon at about 3 o’clock I looked out of the window and saw Edward Heath [ex British PM – ed], flanked on either side by two stalwart men dressed in black. I assumed they were bodyguards. He was looking straight at my shop window. This is a man I never liked. I hoped he would not come into the shop. But he did. Every inch of the floor space, including the basement, was packed with customers.
I was behind the counter. He came straight up to me with his usual expressionless face. I forced out a smile and said to him “Is there anything I can do for you, Mr. Heath?”
“Yes” he said “Would you tell me how much I should pay for a Speede map of Kent?”
I said “For a first edition?”
“Yes” he said
“It would cost you about £700 pounds.”I replied.
He turned to his two men and said “I think I’ve been robbed!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I reacted quickly from my high horse. By this time the voices of the customers had subdued somewhat as they noticed what was going on. With a sweet smile I said in a very loud voice “Oh I understand, Mr. Heath. What you want is a free valuation!”
Everyone was silent. Mr.Heath turned a bright puce and strode out of the door followed by his men. An explosion of laughter broke out and the customers clapped energetically. Clearly they disliked this man as much as I did.
Out of this event something very useful happened. One of my regular customers came up to the desk and congratulated me. Then he told me that an old aunt of his had died and would I like to come and have a look at her library. He said that he would usually have asked more than one bookseller for an offer but he was so impressed by the way I managed Mr. Heath that he would accept whatever I suggested. At that time the right kind of old books were getting very hard to find. I paid more money for them than I had ever paid before. It was just what I needed at that time. Here was a man who did not know how important it is to behave well to those who elected him.