Watchtower readers know that we generally find few kind words for organized religion. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that, regarding churchy afterworld promises, pulpit-pounding, and denunciation of those who choose not to join the flock — that’s not for us.

The doorbell rang here in Phoenix while we were on vacation. So it was with a mixture of surprise, nostalgic relief, and “polite-company wariness” that I greeted two callers at the door. I could see other volunteers waiting in the broiling sun on the sidewalk. “Watchtower”, I figured.

When strangers come calling on the door, survival as modern city dwellers depends on being able to ID your caller quickly. Only a few categories cover 90% of those unexpected guests who ring your doorbell.

  • Door-to-door sales, commercial products (almost extinct due to peddler permit regulations)
  • Door-to-door sales, home repair services
  • College kids and dropouts selling magazines for “scholarships”
  • College kids and dropouts selling magazines for “trips to Hawaii”
  • Over 40 years of answering the door tend to train you as to appropriate responses to each, and what to expect in the way of argumentation. The success formula here:

  • Never, never argue with a caller.
  • Always thank them profusely for dropping by
  • Praise their work
  • Wish them well in their endeavor.
  • Never, never volunteer personal information which could be used to prolong the conversation or leverage a sales pitch.
  • Don’t point out that technically they are trespassing, or soliciting. They know this.
  • If a religious or ideological point of view is being solicited, don’t debate: don’t debate on their grounds, and don’t debate on your own.
  • To co-opt a business tactic, “be cooperative, but not forthcoming.”
  • In summary, thank them, wish them well, and make them feel good about getting on their way. There are better fish to fry, and there’s no need for me to be rude in making that obvious.

    Cold-call doorbell ringing is a tough job. People still get shouted at, cursed, insulted and even threatened. In college, I signed up for a sales job for Encyclopaedia Americana. I learned that their representatives were being sent, unlicensed, into areas where solicitors permits were required, only to be arrested for their efforts. I also learned that the only approved sales technique was one of intimidation: “Lady, you don’t want your kids to grow up stupid, do you?” I quit training right away.

    I followed my own advice with the Watchtower folks (Jehovah’s Witnesses). As cold-callers go, they are unfailingly pleasant, courteous, and fun to exchange pleasantries with. If you open the door to religious discussions or debate, remember that part of their mission is to grow the church rolls, so you will be there all day. You say your theology is better? By experience and training, that’s exactly what they’ve honed their skills in discussing. Don’t waste their time or yours with teasers, red herrings, brilliant one-liners or opposing points of view. Don’t get into it.

    “Gentlemen?”, I said.

    They introduced themselves. Today’s “Awake!” theme was movie violence: “What’s happening to movies?”

    We didn’t get into that either. They offered me a complimentary Watchtower and Awake, if I would read it, and I assured them I would (and I will). Whether we’re 83 or 43, there’s few of us who wouldn’t agree that the movies turned into something nastily unpleasant and disturbing, around the time we turned 40.

    Over my adult lifetime, the Watchtower folks have been a pillar of stability. All around us, we grew up with the spectre of Jonestown, and the lying, cheating, stealing, fraudulent, morally bankrupt TV evangelists, and the detestable, hate-filled politically active ilk that they spawned.

    I know that Jehovah’s Witnesses focus on redemption and afterlife. If you believe you’re going to be reunited with your loved ones in an afterlife, I’m not going to argue with you. While your belief may not be mine, it’s morally benevolent: it doesn’t threaten my life that you continue to believe in a comprehensible world, albeit one whose admission fare consists of virtuosity and joining the deceased.

    So I reiterate that it was with nostalic relief that I greeted my Watchtower callers, ultimately sending them on their route in peace. Saving souls in today’s world is a tough job, and we live on the border of a real tough neighborhood. With a peaceful and positive demeanor, and unfailing courtesy, it’s somewhat reassuring to see that, after all these years, at least the world remains safe enough that Jehovah’s Witnesses may continue calling.

    And they never ask for donations.

    As I said, it’s not for us, but I honestly do wish them well and the best of luck. After all, where else can you find folks interested in saving souls without exacting a crushing price tag?

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