Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Lesson in Simple Arithmetic

Arithmetical functions are fairly simple: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. But these simple functions are responsible for an awful lot of the messes that Klal seems to get into with depressing regularity, while their efficient and thoughtful use could help us out tremendously.

Let's look at addition. We really love this function. We regularly add new and improved chumras, whose net result is to subtract time from what we really should be concentrating on, to multiply the dis-ease and discomfort for many members of Klal and to divide us in our feelings about who is really running the show. Routinely we add more and more must-haves to our shopping lists, resulting in a multiplication of debt. Where we should be adding, in trying to bring back those members of Klal who have fallen off the derech or who were never on it to begin with, we instead write them off, taking their subtraction from our midsts as a "so what?"

Multiplying? Some parts of Klal are really good at this part. Literally, they are increasing the numbers in Klal. That they are doing so with no idea as to how these people are going to be kept alive and/or given even the most basic of services subtracts from the joy that we should be feeling that Klal is growing, and multiplies the headaches. And because this multiplication is going on so, too, is division arising, as segments of Klal disagree on just who is going to bear the financial burden for all this multiplying.

Subtraction? Yup, we're really good at this too. We routinely subtract subjects of weight and urgency from the public list of what is important or good for Klal to be dealing with. Got a problem? Just subtract it from the list and problem solved, until it smacks us square in the face multiplied beyond reason.

Division? Now that we really seem to excel at. The formula seems to go like this. Scratch two Jews, get 5 opinions, add in at least one broigess, and divide into warring camps. Months ago I wrote that the way we are going now, not too far down the line every individual is going to be another sub-division of Yiddishkeit. There is no one definition for who is a frum Jew because we have divided frumkeit into so many sub-atomic particles.

We are soon going to be asked to give a chesbon ha'nefesh, and we will all be contrite about our errors during this past year. In the year to come let's not repeat the same arithmetical errors we have made in the past. Let's learn to use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division for the good of Klal, the good of all of Klal. And while we are at it, let's learn to use some higher mathematical formulas as well. We could begin with the precept that a part cannot be greater than the whole it is a part of. That a whole is the sum of ALL of its parts. That yes, it is possible to add apples and oranges, as long as we remember that they are both fruits.

May we have a year where blessings are added, woes subtracted, happiness multiplied, and where we can see our Klal united, not divided.


The Babysitter said...

I see you are very into the financial aspects of saving money and everything involved with money. I understand that money is important, but sometimes I truly get sick of hearing about how much money is important. When it comes to a point that a little kid declines going to an amusement park to have fun because it cost too much money, then I think somethings wrong. Or when a child is afraid to go shopping and buy clothes since they don't want to use up their parents money, then it becomes unfair. I don't know how things are run in your house. But I've been to houses like that, and I feel the children are too involved in the finances and they loose their childhood because of it. Perhaps I will write up more about this when I sort all my thoughts out.

"Let's learn to use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division for the good of Klal, the good of all of Klal."

Sounds good, Amen!
and very good points at the end!

ProfK said...

If children don't learn about money and budgeting and understanding finances at home then where are they going to learn this? Life, all life, even for children, is about making choices. And to make a choice you need to be informed. If children are consumers, and they are, then they need to understand how that consumerism works apropos of how it is paid for.

Take your amusement park example. My children are all adults now but let's assume they were still young enough for amusement park trips. Our shul is sponsoring a chol hamoed outing for kids to an amusement park. The charge is $54 per child, including the bus to get there and back. Any adults going along will pay the same $54. If I sent my three kids the cost of that fun outing would be $162. And that cost does not include any food or drinks in it.

Now, let your fingers do the walking through a few store catalogs online. For that $162 I could buy them half a dozen board games and one computer game--items that they could have for more than just one day. I could also buy a craft project that they all could participate in. And I could buy them ice cream treats or some other snack that they might like. I could even throw in a few books. And I could choose to spend only half that amount of money and still give my kids a "good time" that would last longer than one day.

The cost of children's "fun" has gone up to the point where yes, choices need to be made. If a child is given the choices and still chooses the amusement park, then they cannot come back and argue that they want the board games and other items as well.

Re the buying clothes, there is a big difference between what is needed--a pair of shoes that has worn out--and what is wanted because it is in or just because. When my kids were young they all knew that in no way was I going to buy "labels" just because some nebulous someone "out there" had declared them as "in." They got a choice in their clothing purchases but the budget was set by me. None of my kids had empty closets, but they also learned to shop with a discerning eye for value and cost.

There is a big difference between an unhealthy emphasis on the cost of everything, to the point that a child becomes scared , and teaching a child the basics of how to make monetary choices.

The Babysitter said...

ProfK: I understand that the money could be a lot, and with that same amount of money so much more would be able to be bought and that they could still have a good time. But there are emotional issues that can be involved too, it's not always about buying and selling a product and it's physical worth. After all with succos time approaching people spend so much money on esrogim that are "perfect" perhaps there you can tie some value to the "perfectness" but really you can spend the same amount of money and gain so much more with other things, according to your theory, but here you can't substitute other things, you need to buy the esrog and it's hiddor mitzvah.

Again I'm not saying that expensive stuff are necessarily better, I understand that children could be plenty happy with other things. After all some .99 toys make children happier than other expensive toys.

But I think there has to be a balance. I also mentioned in my latest post about how I think it's better to buy the child a school supply that they like, rather than one that's on sale. This way if they like it they feel good about it and will want to use it more and will be more careful with taking care of it. Also, with food shopping, I think it's better to spend a little more and buy what the kids like rather than to buy tons of food that's on sale and then none of the kids eat it, then it's a real waste of money.

About clothes, so long as they have a budget and they understand they can buy clothes when they need it then I agree, that sounds good. I always liked the idea of a budget.

Right, ok if it's just the monetary basics, and not taken to the extreme then it can be good.

Tuvi said...

Babysitter, there is hiddur mitzvah and then there is going way overboard. We bought a beautiful esrog and lulav for almost $100 that three families will be using on sukkos--us and our company. And there are people who will go into deep debt and pay $500 or $1000 or $1500 for that lulav and esrog. And they will use hiddur mitzvah as their reason. For me at least they have crossed over the line from mitzvah to something else. Buying food on sale that no one will eat is just thrown out money, but when it comes to toys and trips and other luxuries its up to parents to teach children that some things are worth more than others, never mind the price, and that they can't necessarily have everything just because they want it.

The Babysitter said...

Tuvi: Since it's not really my mitzvah I can't really see these people's side. But yea I agree, people shouldn't be going into debt and spending exorbent amounts of money for "Hiddor Mitzvah".

I actually came across an interesting article about this all. I'll write a post about it and link to this post and comments.