God and Mark Zuckerberg

Photo Credit: Andrew Feinberg via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Andrew Feinberg via Compfight cc

I would like to revisit a lengthy discussion I had with a friend some time ago when we talked about what would make me revert to my former belief in God, Jesus and Christianity. A bit of a disclaimer though, I’ve actually had this dialogue with several people so the conversation I’m about to relate may not exactly have come from one source but several, and I don’t necessarily remember who exactly said what. But to keep this narrative simple, I’ll write as if the arguments were coming from only one person, whom I shall call Marduk.

So Marduk asks me what it would take for me to be a believer again, and I say I’ll take the Thomas option. When the disciples told Thomas that a resurrected Jesus had appeared to them, he didn’t believe them and instead said that unless he sees the nail marks and touches the wounds of Jesus, he would not believe (John 20:24-29).

In a similar fashion, it would take a personal, vivid and conscious experience of the reality of God for me to believe again. If God was good enough to grant Thomas that privilege, then why should I not have the same?

After all, Christians like to talk about God wanting to have a relationship with us humans. How can he expect to have a relationship with me if he doesn’t even show himself; if the only way I can know him is by hunches and feelings that are prone to subjective interpretations; or by a book that he didn’t even write himself, contains many scientifically questionable and fantastic anecdotes, whose meaning even his own priests, prophets and theologians don’t agree on, and whose authorship is anonymous in many instances?

Imagine if you had daughter who has a suitor whom she only knows through a certain facebook account. Your daughter tells you, “Daddy (or mommy), this guy says he wants to have a relationship with me.”

“Well, have you seen him in person?”

“No. We only know each other through facebook.”

“Oh, does he have a picture?”

“Well, it’s not really his account. He just communicates with me through this other person who has an account.”

“And do you know this other person?”

“No.”

“Have you asked to meet him?”

“Yes, but he says he can’t show himself yet and that I simply have to trust him.”

At this point, I’d say, “Dearest daughter, I highly doubt this person exists, or if he is really sincere in having a relationship with you. Chances are, you’re being scammed.”

Marduk’s reply to this is twofold: One, he says it is quite presumptuous of me to dictate to God the terms of our relationship (he is God after all), and two, if God were to grant my request for a personal appearance or experience, then the very force of his identity and personality would make me naturally want to have a relationship with him, thus taking away “free will.”

He then trots out Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of facebook) as an example. If Zuckerberg would suddenly show up at my doorstep and then say he’d like to hang out with me, then I would naturally WANT to hang out with him because of his celebrity status. In other words, of course, I would want to have a relationship with Zuckerberg but maybe for all the wrong reasons.

To answer the first objection, I don’t think it’s presumptuous at all because after all, you guys tell me that he’s the one who wants to have a relationship with me. And I am simply expecting of this relationship what I would expect of any other relationship. One, I need to know who exactly I’m in a relationship with — not only have an idea of this person from indirect sources, and two, I expect open, honest and clear communication between the two of us.

On the second objection, what Marduk is in effect saying is that if God were to grant my request, then that would take away “free will” because I would essentially have “no choice” but to believe. Now that may seem a reasonable argument at first, but we only have to turn the pages of the very same Bible Marduk cherishes, to see that this is also fallacious.

If the stories are to be believed, the Old Testament Israelites witnessed firsthand their God and yet they routinely sinned and disobeyed. Jonah heard God’s voice yet he ran away. Lucifer was an angel in heaven and yet he rebelled. Judas was in Jesus’ inner circle yet he betrayed him.

The point is, these people all presumably had a direct experience of God, yet were STILL ABLE TO MAKE THE CHOICE of whether to follow or not. Their freedom to enter or not to enter into a relationship with God was NOT compromised by their knowledge of him. They were still free to accept or reject God.

That is simply what I ask, to know and have some contact with this person or being who supposedly wants to have a loving relationship with me.

Is that too much to ask?

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Violent Reactions? Send me an email at andy@freethinking.me. View past articles at www.freethinking.me.

Truth and Lies of Network Marketing (Part 3)

cash

I began this series by explaining what network marketing or multi-level marketing (MLM) was, followed by a discussion on how unscrupulous groups or individuals used the MLM concept to perpetuate illegal schemes. Today I want to deal with questionable, unethical, and unsavory practices of network marketing distributors. I have committed some of these in the past and I regret not having the maturity, foresight or discipline to refrain from them.

During that time, I was impressionable, idealistic and naive (in terms of business). Some MLMs create a clannish, cultish culture where you were expected not to question too much the practices of your uplines, but rather, to follow them. After all, they were successful, weren’t they? We would try to copy our uplines, the way they talked, the expressions they used (e.g. “Power!”, “Grabe!”), the way they dressed and the way they behaved. We were encouraged to do this because we were supposed to be duplicates of our uplines and in turn create duplicates of ourselves. “Don’t think too much. Just follow your upline,” was our mantra.

In some ways, it was beneficial. Former janitors, security guards or maids would get up on stage and explain the products and marketing plans, and even crack jokes — none of which were original but were simply copied from their uplines or other speakers. It was inspiring to see people like them gain tremendous self-confidence and self-esteem.

On the other hand, when we saw or heard questionable advice, the “follow your upline” mantra made it difficult to object to those. After all, we didn’t want to be seen as troublemakers or dissidents.

Dishonesty

Many questionable practices of distributors stem from dishonesty. There is the “kidnap” method of inviting people to business orientation seminars. This involves calling people you normally don’t call, or haven’t called for a long time, telling them you want to catch up or meet for coffee (or something to that effect). When that meeting takes place, you would either be waiting with your upline or try to persuade them to join a seminar, or present the business outright.

This seems like a harmless little lie but in truth, it already creates a small crack in your integrity. In hindsight, I now see that it was not  the best way to start a business relationship.

Omission of truth is another form of dishonesty. I remember, when I was presented with the marketing plan, that there were all these rosy promises of getting overriding commissions from my downlines. When I had actually joined and read the distributor manual, I found out that there was a monthly sales requirement I had to meet in order to earn my overrides. That was not explained from the start and it was a huge letdown for me. But I was already in at that time, and so had to make the best of it. Some MLMers still do this — presenting you all the good stuff up front but not letting you read the fine print until it’s too late.

Exaggeration

MLMers are fond of exaggeration. They promise you a 6-figure income in the span of a few months, your dream house or car, vacations, and so on. Some would even promise “no selling” which is a blatant lie — at the very least, you would have to sell the idea, so be wary of this. It is true though that there are many successful MLMers who can show you large paychecks, but you have to ask — how  much did they have to spend in order to earn those paychecks? Remember what Robert Kiyosaki says, “It’s not how much money you make that matters, but how much you keep, and how long that money works for you.”

Product Loading or Buying the Position

This is a very dirty trick where your upline persuades you to advance in your position by buying the product requirement needed for that position, or in the case of binary systems, to buy 3-heads, 7-heads, etc. This will require you to put up a lot of cash up front (in the hundreds of thousands or even millions) for the promise of a huge return. That return almost never comes and the only thing huge here is the commission your upline will receive at your expense.

Remember that the basic MLM concept is that for a small cash outlay, you get the chance to sell some products and build an organization of people who will do the same thing. Over time, you will be receiving small commissions and overrides from each of those people under you, and if you have a large group, then those small amounts add up into a huge amount. It makes no sense pouring in a lot of cash when you still don’t have a single person in your organization.

Conclusion

Looking back, my primary mistake was not using enough of my head when I did MLM. I was driven by my emotions and desires — not that those are bad things, but very often they need to be tempered by reason and rationality. Yes, we read of people who threw caution to the winds, followed their dreams and became deliriously successful — but those people are few, that’s why they are celebrities. To balance this, try doing some research as well into those people who followed their dreams, threw caution to the winds, and ended up worst than they were before. There are a lot of those as well, more than those who became successful, but they don’t get their stories written, they don’t have books or movies about them. That’s why we don’t hear about them.

It is true that there will be a select few who will go on to become wildly successful in MLM. But that is true in almost any endeavor be it business, sports, entertainment, showbiz, the arts, etc.

For non-MLMers, learn to look at the opportunity you have objectively. Hopefully these pointers I gave will give you a better idea of what to expect and what questions to ask. Don’t be taken in by sweet promises of easy money. There is no such thing. Being successful in MLM takes hard work.

To MLMers, do business the right way and don’t employ these dirty tricks. Always be honest and upfront with the people you talk to. Don’t promise the moon and only give a flashlight. Your reputation and relationships are more important than the short-term gains you achieve if you play dirty.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Violent Reactions? Send me an email at andy@freethinking.me. View past articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Truth and Lies of Network Marketing (Part 2)

 Photo Credit: JD Hancock via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: JD Hancock via Compfight cc

Last week, I gave a general view of network marketing or multi-level marketing (MLM), and showed why it was a legitimate, and even brilliant, business model. Yet it has also gained an unsavory reputation because of two reasons, one of which I will discuss in this article.

There have been many instances where unscrupulous people have used the MLM method to perpetuate illegal schemes — the most famous of which is called the pyramid scheme. Until today, many people still interchange the terms “MLM” with “pyramid”, as if the two were one and the same. But one is a legal way of doing business while the other is not.

Anatomy of a Pyramid

In the late 1990’s, a friend of mine approached me with a piece of paper that had some colored diagrams on it. He then explained that if I invested a certain amount, I think around P10,000, then I can recruit some more people who will also pay P10,000 and I will earn some commission from these recruits. “Just invite 3 and you will have earned back the P10,000 you invested,” was the promise. And then, if these new recruits of mine go recruit more of their friends, and their friends recruit their friends, and so on until the 5th or 6th generation, then I will hit the jackpot and earn something like a million pesos.

At that time, I was fresh out of college, a neophyte high school teacher, and almost a complete idiot regarding finances and business. Also, this concept was pretty new to me so I consulted a friend about it. He didn’t know what to make of it then but said it sounded fishy so he told me to be on the safe side and not jump into it. I followed his advice and I’m glad I did because that was the perfect example of a pyramid scheme.

The FBI website warns against pyramid schemes in this manner: “The real profit is earned, not by the sale of the product, but by the sale of new distributorships. Emphasis on selling franchises rather than the product eventually leads to a point where the supply of potential investors is exhausted and the pyramid collapses.”

In other words, if a company’s marketing plan puts much of its emphasis on recruitment bonuses and how much you can earn when new downlines come in, be very wary and on your guard. Pyramids used to be very blatant, demanding that you put money up front for no product at all, simply an “investment.” However, because of the many scams that have hit the news time and again, more people have become aware of these schemes. So the schemers have created token products to avoid people saying they have no product. Yet, if their emphasis is still on earning via recruitment bonuses, then it is still running on a pyramid model and will eventually collapse.

In a legitimate MLM, the goal is not simply to make money off new recruits (in fact, some MLMs do away with this “joining commission” altogether) — the goal is to create a large network of satisfied users and sellers of your company’s products. For example, if you have a large organization of around 10,000 users and you earn an average of P10 for products that they buy from the company, then you have just earned P100,000. Of course, it takes a lot of time, effort and skills to build an organization of 10,000 distributors, but so does earning P100,000 in any other venture.

With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that a lot of the most successful MLM companies in the world sell products which are consumable, or have a wide range of products, where income is not dependent only on the purchase of a “Starter package” but on subsequent, regular and repeated purchases and sales of goods.

Be wary when a company promises “no selling.” That is almost a sure sign that it’s a scam of some sort. A legitimate company will never promise that you don’t have to sell. You will, in fact, have to learn how to sell and you will have to come to love to sell if you want to be successful in MLM, and a good company will provide the appropriate trainings and seminars in order to equip you to do well in it.

So I hope you have now learned to differentiate between a legitimate MLM and a pyramid scheme.

Next week, we’ll discuss some questionable and unethical practices of MLM distributors.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Violent Reactions? Send me an email at andy@freethinking.me. View past articles at www.freethinking.me.

Truth and Lies of Network Marketing (Part 1)

coffee
Photo Credit: Alaa Ali / ĻΩooĻΩoo ‏εïз‎ © via Compfight cc

I’m sure many of you have experienced this: A friend or passing acquaintance gets in touch and wants to meet you. Some will say it’s only for coffee. Others will make some vague reference to a possible business venture. Whatever it is, you show up, and discover that person is drawing circles on a piece of paper, is talking about too-good-to-be-true income, and recruiting you into a network marketing business.

Network marketing is also called Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) or simply, “networking” — although “networking” is also used to mean a business activity where one meets other people to generate contacts. So to avoid confusion, I will simply refer to it as MLM.

Some people curse MLM and call it a scam. They don’t want to have anything to do with it and they look at its members as liars and deceivers. Of course, those who are involved in it, the “true believers,” would claim that they are doing legitimate business and they would bring out proof like being registered with the SEC, their longevity as a company, and so on.

So what is the truth? As with most things, it is not a plain “Yes, it’s a scam” or “No, it’s not”  answer, but lies somewhere in between. This is my experience: I and my wife joined an MLM company 15 years ago. In 6 short months, we had achieved the top rung of our company’s “Ladder of Success” which entitled us to maximum rebates and overriding bonuses. However, I left the company after two years. Having seen the inner workings of the business, I came to a realization that my personality, inclinations and talents were not the best fit for it. I left with no animosity. I’m still a legitimate “manager” of that company. I still purchase products for personal consumption, and I still get discounts and rebates when I do.

My intention in writing this is not to turn you into MLM fans, nor to make you anti-MLMers. I simply want to share my insights and experiences, as a disinterested third-party. I have no hidden agenda other than to provide you with a better understanding and information of what MLM is — for two reasons:

1) So that you will not think that all MLMers are scammers just out to get your money. I still have many friends who are doing MLM in a legitimate and ethical way and it pains me to see them unfairly lumped together with known scammers.

and

2) So that you will not readily swallow everything an MLMer says. Some MLMers have a tendency to exaggerate or misrepresent what the business is all about. If you are thinking about joining an MLM company, I hope to provide a rational guide in making a sound decision on whether this is for you or not.

So first of all, what is MLM?

In its simplest form, MLM is a modification of direct selling. In direct selling, if I sell product A, I get a commission and earn money. In MLM, if you recruit me to join your organization, and I sell product A, I get a commission, and you get what is called an overriding commission (the terminologies may be different depending on what company you’re exposed to, but the ideas are mostly the same — also, if you are the recruiter you are called the sponsor or “upline” and I am called the “downline”). To extend the analogy further, if I recruit my friend Adam as my downline, and he sells product A, he gets a commission, and you and I get overriding bonuses as his uplines.

Because of this, I sometimes refer to MLM as direct selling on steroids.

The basic concept is that given a large enough organization, I can make decent money on overrides. That is what drives MLMers to constantly keep recruiting people and training them to go out and recruit some more. There is nothing wrong with this practice. Insurance managers do this all the time, recruiting agents and training them to sell, and then earning overrides when they do.

Some companies offer recruitment bonuses, giving you extra rewards when you grow your organization like when you personally sign up a new distributor into your group. This is most popular in binary-type MLMs. You get additional pay when you meet a certain criteria, like getting a pair of new distributors on your left leg and right leg. Again, nothing wrong with this. It is a legitimate way of attracting people to join your business. It is not that different from a “signing bonus” that some companies offer to people they want to hire.

So where’s the scam?

I hope I have established by now that MLM by itself is neither good nor bad. It is simply a way of distributing products and it is a marketing strategy. In fact, I would even say that it is a brilliant concept that utilizes peer-selling and word-of-mouth endorsement.

Unfortunately this idea has been marred by two things:

1) Questionable/unethical practices of distributors

2) Using the MLM concept to perpetuate illegal schemes

More on this next week.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Violent Reactions? Send me an email at andy@freethinking.me. View past articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

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