“Bringing up a family should be an adventure, not an anxious discipline in which everybody is constantly graded for performance.” – Milton R. Sapirstein (Paradoxes of Everyday Life, 1955)
Dear Early to Rise,
In the supermarket line today, my 10-year-old-son Aidan picks up two Snickers bars. I say, “I’m not paying for that.” He says, “It’s OK, I have money.”
I learn he got his money through a lunchroom extortion program. OK, perhaps “extortion” is too harsh a word. Here’s the deal: Danny gives Aidan a cheese stick. Ryan sees Aidan beginning to eat it and he says, “I want a cheese stick — and I’ll give you a dollar for it.” Aidan sells it to him.
Now Aidan has frozen his second Snickers bar because he thinks he can get $1.50 for it. So my question is this: Should I give him a lecture on the value of charity or should I congratulate him on his industriousness?
I’m torn, please advise.
(signed) A Concerned Mother
First, let’s get the vocab straight. Aiden may or may not be industrious, but his quick decision to trade a gifted asset for cash is evidence of pragmatism — a sister virtue to industriousness but not the same thing.
Extortion, on the other hand, is not a virtue — as you know — but a vice, because, unlike industriousness and pragmatism, it implies a one-sided or forced exchange.
If you want a good example of extortion, I remind you of your brother Chris’ grammar-school prank of securing cash from fellow students with a penknife. Actually, that was armed robbery.
Although Aiden is certainly demonstrating one uncle’s interest in barter and countertrade, he shows no signs of embracing his other uncle’s penchant for force. And the fact that he so quickly figured out a way to increase sales and (no doubt) net profits by providing the market with new and better products suggests a touch of business brilliance.
So don’t be torn. Lecture him on charity. His instincts for business seem well-rooted. A single scolding from you is unlikely to deracinate them. And since he’s likely to become the child who pays for Mom and Dad’s declining years some time from now, a good grounding in charity will have beneficial effects on the whole family.
Thanks for entrusting your child’s future to me.
(signed) MMF[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]