If you sit back and keep your eyes open, the practical lessons abound.
Such is the case with Middle, who’s now in high school and beginning to receive the rush of mailers from prospective colleges for life after high school. But amidst all of the flyers and brochures was a package from Gillette with a picture of a grizzled Clay Matthews on the reverse side and a glistening new razor on the other. Yeah, I’m a throwback guy who’s rough and masculine but that’s no reason to have unsightly stubble…is the message that resonates inside the heads of the neophyte shavers. Middle opened the box and out slid a new Gillette Fusion razor, ready and waiting to make his face smooth as a baby’s butt.
Cool! was Middle’s comment, and that’s where the lessons began.
Are there refills with that razor? I asked.
Nah, just the razor itself was Middle’s response. So after a certain number of usages, Middle’s going to have to buy refills – check that, I’m going to have to buy refills since high schoolers don’t have the green to buy pricey razor refills – if he plans to use the razor moving forward. The reality in the PracticalDad household is that while Middle is already shaving, he and I use the same brand of razor so that the refills can be shared between us to cut down the cost. My own beard is the consistency of steel wool from years of daily dry shaving and his own face doesn’t grow enough stubble to require a daily shave, so we can get by with a shared refill pack.
So, I asked, if they’re sending you a free razor, where do you think that they make their money?
Middle glanced down at the package and nodded. So this is like the printer ink?
I nodded back. The conversation went to the ground covered in a previous conversation that we’d had. This instance with the razor was no different than HP or another manufacturer that sells computer printers; the device is literally a throwaway and their money going forward would be made by the ongoing sales of highly priced ink. Be aware that when someone offers you something for free, it might be nice but the likelihood is that they aren’t Mother Teresa and they’ve got some way of profiting from it. The question is whether you understand that and whether you actually need what’s being peddled, such as printers.
The next question was one for which he had no answer. So how do you think Gillette got your name and approximate age for the mailing? Middle glanced down as he thought about it and after a few seconds said I dunno. How? It was now that he learned about mailing lists, how organizations that had basic demographic data – like the College Board perhaps – sold those lists to willing buyers. So Gillette can determine who their market will be and then go to a data source for the list of everyone in that demographic group…so while some of this is unavoidable, understand that it happens and be careful to whom you provide information. The reality is that we’ve allowed corporations and the government to construct all of these background structures that are utterly opaque to people who are just trying to make their way. I’m a fairly smart, cynical guy and even I’m still surprised at learning about we’re constantly gamed by corporate and governmental entities. A frequent tagline now used in the PracticalDad household is the simple pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, uttered when public promises and niceties are uttered; these would include the IRS denials that there was even-handed application towards applications for non-profit status by political groups and the President’s comments that policyholders could continue with their policies under the new Affordable Care – aka “Obamacare” – Act. What I want my kids to learn is that they start looking around for a figurative curtain to help ascertain whether what’s said is believable or simply more tripe.
We now live in a largely opaque culture, one that we’ve allowed the various corporations and government to create over the decades. There might be legitimate reasons for complexity, but the truth is that without a functional regulatory and judicial structure, then opacity is simply a curtain behind which all manner of amoral and unethical activities can occur. Even when they’re ostensibly adults, our kids are still babes in the woods ready for the taking by whomever has the ability to control the curtains. Keep your head up and your eyes open, looking for any and all opportunities to help them learn to question and understand what’s happening around them.