Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Food for thought - The Spirit of Ebay

(Column for local paper - idea sparked by David McCullough's post)

I’m an Ebayer. For those of you who don’t know what that is, Ebay is an auction website where you can buy and sell almost anything. I’ve bought (occasionally), rather than sold anything. It’s great for tracking down items that are hard to find, or for getting things at a good price.

After each transaction you are rated by the other party, which gives others a guide to how reliable a customer you are. There are different coloured stars depending how many good transactions you have made – it all sounds a bit like first class at school!

Apparently all this positive feedback reinforces the Ebay values. I hadn’t given much thought to what they were until a friend pointed it out, so I went and looked them up on their website. The first three read as follows:
  • We believe people are basically good.
  • We believe everyone has something to contribute.
  • We believe that an honest, open environment can bring out the best in people.
It was the first one that particularly struck me. As a friend of mine writes in another column, “Are they living in the real world? Do they not read the papers or listen to the news? A perverted man murders five women whose lives have broken down – is that basically good?”

This was lurking at the back of my mind when I opened a newspaper lying at my mother and father’s home and read the headline, “How Ebay stole our Christmas”. The article details how Ebay, instead of being a nice open environment where people generously sell off stuff they are finished with, it’s the place to find those hard to get presents, the ‘must haves’, but only at severely inflated prices. It tells the story of Scott who bought 60 or so of the latest ‘must have’ games consoles and sold them off on Ebay for double the price to desperate parents who hadn’t planned far enough in advance. He made £6,000 profit for a few hours work.

You can’t blame Scott and the many others who did likewise, but it does call into question the statements that “We believe that people are basically good” and “an honest open environment can bring out the best in people”.

Much better to admit that the whole system is based on the fact that people are basically greedy, and that greedy buyers who want more for their money, and greedy sellers who want more money for their product keep the whole thing in balance.

Of course it doesn’t make for a great value statement – but at least it would be realistic and biblical. “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain” (Jeremiah 6:13). Test yourself – were you disappointed with any of your presents this Christmas? Although it was completely free would you have wanted something more? Or perhaps you got all you wanted – would you have been happy with a lot less?

The idea that we can have ‘a community that … brings out the best in people’ assumes that there is a ‘best’ to be brought out. Given the mess of the world and the wars and atrocities of the last 100 years, surely we can lose this myth that man is basically good.

We don’t have to pull the wool down over our eyes and pretend that if we try hard enough we can have an open honest community – God has come into the world to offer to transform people from the inside out to build exactly that type of community. The good news that Jesus brings is that he will transform those who put their trust in him so that they no longer have selfish, greedy hearts, but hearts that delight to live for God and serve others. That’s the only way to an open honest community.

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