Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fitting In

Through volunteering I have had the unique opportunity to work with a variety of youths ranging from 8 – 12 years of age. It’s refreshing to spend time talking with the youngsters as they bring new topics to my attention that I have never even thought of before.

Take today for example, I am in a class of 11 year olds and they call me over to show me what appears to be a stuffed hamster-like thing. “Mr. R” they say, “have you ever seen one of these before?” In all honesty – I hadn’t seen one of “these things” before, but they seemed excited to talk to me about it so I asked the next logical questions, “What is it and what does it do?”

Their little faces lit up as they exclaimed, “It’s a ZhuZhu!” (Pronounced Zoo Zoo)

Okay, it looks like a hamster and has funny name, but what does it do? The students put the ZhuZhu on the ground and told me to stand back. Within seconds it was rolling back and forth on the floor saying in-audible things that I couldn’t make out in the hysteria of laughter from the students.

What was ironic about the whole situation was that I spent a small portion of the morning talking to the class about the powers of the media and advertising. When I asked why the class why the media would work so hard to get their attention they all knew it was because of money. We even talked about how children use their parents to buy the products they see on television because children don’t earn their own money. It would appear that the consumer seed has already been planted, but I can only hope that my conversation today has left some sort of impression in their minds.

On my way home I started to think about the things that I used to buy and play with at school that were probably just as strange to adults looking at me back in the day. We all remember Pogs, devil sticks, tamagotchis, etc. The more I thought about it the more I realized that it wasn’t necessarily the number of commercials I saw on the TV about a product that made me want to buy it. All I needed to see was the fun that some other kid was having with it at school and I wanted in (except for Pogs I still believe to this day that I was the first kid to have those).

It was interesting because here I was spending time talking to them about not falling into -what I will call the “buying trap” – and here I am 15 years later realizing that I was the same way.

This past week I was reading a book by a famous Canadian businessman and philanthropist Seymour Schulich and in his book he touched on “following the crowd.” He said that in life he often found the most success when he went against the flow of common thought – when he was comfortable with doing his own thing.

While I think it may be hard to convince small children that it’s not important to fit in. I think it’s important to try and lead by example. Schulich suggests implementing the 48-hour rule. If you still feel like you absolutely need something after two days then go ahead and get it. In most situations you’ll find that after 48-hours has passed the “need” for the product will dissipate and the cash that was burning a hole in your pocket will stay in your pocket.

At the end of the day I don’t think any product truly defines who you are. You may find greater rewards when you go against the current and try to define your own image beyond what you see on TV.

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