If it’s not about me, then who is it about?

My principal goal as a parent and father is to raise children to become moral and productive adults, capable of taking care of themselves in the great wide world.  This seems to have once been a simpler task given that more and more young adults are coming out of college saddled with debt and either returning home or at best, treading water while they look for the opportunity that permits them to flourish as full-fledged adults.  But that goes to the productive side of the equation; where my wife and I have worked assiduously is to help develop their moral side.  Apart from the usual perceived affliction of church attendance and religious education, we’ve pushed service, requiring volunteer service even before it rears its head in middle and high school.  When each of the kids has reached 13 years of age, we’ve required that they find an outlet for volunteer service and each has responded in kind and now Youngest has his own gig, thoroughly different from his older siblings and very much in keeping with his developing Linus-like sensibility: I love mankind, it’s people that I can’t stand.  As we’ve talked through the years, I’ve gone back to one of the multiple communication taglines that reiterates the point – it’s not about you, kid – and each has heard it repeatedly.  Youngest has probably heard it more than either of the other two because he’s sometimes been present when said to his siblings but hasn’t had the experience and maturity to comprehend the full meaning.

But even when the younger kids aren’t saying anything, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t thinking about it.  If it’s not about me, then who is it about? was the question that came off of Youngest’s lips as we sat in the car several weeks ago.  There was nothing sarcastic about the question, asked as we drove to get yet another pair of shoes for a growing young teen.  He’d been puzzling over it because he’s heard me say it so often through the years.  Children are by nature ego-centric and it’s only as they grow and their perspective widens that not only the awareness of existence, but also the welfare of the others, begins to develop.  Self moves first to immediate and then extended family, then outwards to friends and hopefully beyond that to others who aren’t necessarily even acquaintances.  But being a moral person means not only an awareness of others but also a willingness to work in ways that benefits others, even if they aren’t friends and family, and that is a perspective that frequently has to be taught both by conversation and example.  But the effort to raise a moral person is frequently opposed by the tone and tenor of modern American culture.

That we live in a narcissistic society is a well-documented given.  For the record, narcissism is defined as inordinate fascination with oneself; self-love; vanity and highly covered and somewhat controversial books have documented that psychological test scores measuring narcissistic tendencies have increased over the past three decades.  A deliberate societal push for self-esteem – sometimes without the backing of any actual accomplishment – joins with a stunning array of personal electronic devices that permit the user to record their image and voice again and again and again in the search for perceived cool perfection; with an ability to immediately delete what’s not wanted and an immense memory storage and the focus inward is hard to resist.  This rise in narcissism is an inherent threat to morality since it’s predicated upon self while morality is predicated – at least partially – upon caring for the welfare of others.  The narcissist’s view is inwards and superficial while that of the moral person is outwards and – hopefully – deeper. 

So the effort as the kids age is to get them to shift that perspective outwards and away from themselves.  It means considerable conversation – occasionally a monologue when they’re sullen – and a deliberate effort to engage them in the outside world, helping them find a meaningful way to work on the behalf of others.  It means a willingness to establish limits on the electronics, whether refusing to allow certain devices or setting limits on usage time and media content.  It means a willingness on your own part to model the kind of behavior that you wish them to exhibit.  It isn’t a one-off instance but instead a lengthy and constant process that can be both rewarding as well as tiring, sometimes throwing another iron into the fire of a family schedule.  It is about teaching them that there is more beyond simply themselves and their own needs and wants and that real progress can come when a few are willing to step up and lead; when others see the effort, they will often in turn be drawn out from within and join the effort on behalf of others.  There are all manner of student organizations, student honor societies and school districts that promote voluntary service hours amongst youth, but the primary focus has to be from within the family itself because that’s where the child is going to get the greatest example and emphasis.

PracticalDad Price Index – July 2015

The pricing for the July 2015 edition of the PracticalDad Price Index was completed last week and this is one of those months where honestly, not much happens.  The Total Index (comprising the full marketbasket of 47 grocery store items priced at three separate and unrelated grocery stores) did drop from June’s 107.11 to a new level of 106.30 while the Food-only Index (comprising the basket’s 37 foodstuff items) rose however from June’s 106.46 to July’s 107.35.  So the question is, how can foodstuffs rise while the total index declines? 

In the past seven months, the grocers have taken multiple steps to lower their regular prices.  One chain implemented new regular store-brand pricing under a Low Everyday Prices banner while another took similar steps under an Everyday Low Prices banner; yep, you can’t make this up.  Those two had decreased the regular, non-sale prices of a multitude of store-brand items and as the effects of these flowed through the Price Index, the independent grocer switched the supplier of its store brand items so that the lower prices on items were noted by the Index as well.  The result was notable as an almost ripple effect on the results as one change after another in the span of December 2015 through July 2015 affected the Index downwards in a deflationary manner.  The most recent effects are from the independent grocer as it continues to roll out new store-brand items; this occurs both as they become available and as the old inventory items from the previous supplier are exhausted and subsequently replaced by the new items so that any rollout can take months before it’s completed.  In July’s edition of the Index, the independent introduced the new supplier’s version of plastic kitchen trash bags (13 gallon) at a price that was 29% lower than the old supplier’s offering.  Couple this with some much smaller changes on non-foodstuff items and the effect is significant. 

Amongst the 37 item foodstuff components, what was notable was the effect of hot dogs.  In this case, one of the chain’s store-brand hot dogs joined the other in a stealth-inflation increase as the packaging decreased from a full pound per eight hot dogs to 15 ounces and since I monitor that item by weight – one pound being the original standard – I adjusted the price upwards to reflect what it would be had it continued with the conventional 16 ounce packaging.  But unlike all of the other months however, the independent grocer’s store-brand hot dogs simply disappeared from the case and it continued to be gone over the multiple visits that I made to that store to check on the hot dogs (and yes, it seems odd to walk into a grocery store, look in a case and just walk out again).  The independent’s brand has been consistently less than the chain brand hot dogs and this absence meant that the average for the hot dogs is now significantly higher than before – hence the higher index level, all other things being equal.  My suspicion is that they’re in the process of shifting that product – hot dogs – to the new supplier but that it simply wasn’t available yet and I’ll see that in the next month’s edition.  To be honest, there has been a hot dog brand that cost less than even the independent’s store-brand but I’ve not monitored that since the supposition from the outset of the Index was that I’d be following store-brands whenever they were available and before I deviate, I want to assure that this isn’t a case of just awaiting a new supplier’s product.  If that doesn’t happen, then I will move to that lower-priced brand in lieu of the store-brand product.  What was fascinating in a massively geeky way was that the independent’s case for hot dogs was missing multiple brands and much of the space had been given to larger packages of sausages in what appeared to be an attempt to keep it from looking completely barren.  We’ll have to see how it appears next month.  And yes, the price of eggs increased due to diminished supply because of the Avian Influenza that’s wiped out about a tenth of the nation’s flock, also contributing to the higher level, but it was frankly less of an increase than I expected.