I read an article in the Wall Street Journal the other day by Jack and Suzy Welch about how corporations are people. It reminded me of why I like English antique furniture so much. It speaks to me. The other day, as a matter of fact, I bumped into one of a set of eight chairs and I heard the chair say to me, “Watch where you are going.”. Now, I have to admit that I was surprised that the chair actually spoke, because what I mean about antiques speaking to me is not so much a voice, but about age and condition, patina and all those things about design that you learn in books. So I thought I might try and carry this conversation on just a bit as long as the chair felt like talking.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, “I guess I didn’t see you.”
“Well,” said the chair,”you should watch where you are going. I am, after all, only a temporary resident in your gallery and you need to feed and care for me to the best of your abilities. That doesn’t include bumping into me by accident. And if you wouldn’t mind, would you stop playing Pink Floyd and play a little Handel? I do so miss the baroque era.”
I put some Handel on and thought to quiz the chair on all it had seen. The craftsmen, the clients, the bums that it had supported, the gossip it had heard. What an opportunity! So I started asking a few questions.
“Gossip, gossip, gossip. I don’t wish to tell you any of it. All you would do is pass it on and then every chair in the world would have to sing for its supper. I would be in the hall of shame for my impropriety and then everyone would know that we are actually people.”
“You are not people,” I retorted. “People breathe, have organs, reproduce. You are just a thing!” I have to say I was a little indignant.
“Such a know-it-all” the chair replied, “all things are people. We all exist and that is what counts. We take up space and we are used and, occasionally, abused. Whether we are a bridge or a bicycle or a set of dentures, we are what we are. When people use us well, we thrill to a higher purpose. I mean we are just like corporations in that respect.”
“But corporations are focused on profits,” I objected, “they have no higher purpose. Look at all those banks fixing rates, laundering money and acting like whales. They aren’t people.”
“You don’t get it do you,” the chair shot back. “This is a dog eat dog world and as people we need to recognize this. I started out as a set of sixteen and now we are only eight. Do you think we did this on good looks alone? No, we had to connive to stay alive. People do that you know.”
I was so amazed by this philosophical chair that my gallery manager, Emily, startled me by saying, “Are you talking to someone?”
“No,” I replied, “I was just thinking of what a great set of eight chairs this is but how much better it would be if we had the original set of sixteen.”
“Eight’s enough,” Emily retorted, “we don’t have the space to have sixteen.” Just then, I thought I heard the chair choke just a bit, but I chose to ignore it. Too many life lessons in one day.