Have you ever noticed how complicated shopping can be? Recently, I spent far too much time trying to find a tube of toothpaste, only to be thoroughly thwarted in my efforts to find a plain old tube of Crest. There was tartar control, mint, tartar control with whiteners, sensitive, sensitive with whiteners, cherry cream and citrus splash, but no plain old regular flavored Crest. This got me to thinking about a couple of things. Why do we perceive a need for all of these variations on a theme and why do we feel frustration when "our" regular brand is missing?
Back when I was a kid, there were few brands of tooth paste, with only Crest and Colgate holding any prominence on the shelves. There were also some older folks who still used just baking soda. The big innovation came when they introduced mint varieties. And that was pretty much it for toothpaste.
At some point, someone at either a toothpaste company or advertising agency decided there was money in having a dizzying array of toothpastes on the market. And they must have been right because more keep appearing and are, obviously, being sold. The question is was there a need or was it only the marketing that made us think there was a need? It maybe a chicken and egg sort of question. There must be something in us that craves variety or these things would gather dust on the shelf. What might that be?
We could speculate that, as a species, we survived because of our ability to eat a wide variety of foods, and perhaps that is why we crave differences. But then again, that might apply only to food. Maybe the ad men are more clever than we suspect and the craving is purely manufactured and has been for so long that it is at the point of our being unaware of how we are being manipulated to go after the "new and improved." It could be a combination of these things or something else entirely. But whatever it is, we support many enterprises because of our perceived need for variety.
The other side of the question involves our reluctance to change our selection once we establish our personal preferences. After my fruitless search, I finally succumbed to buying a tube of Citrus Splash Crest and am committed to using this tube. At least twice a day for many weeks to come, I will have to brace myself for this less than wonderful toothpaste experience. So why I wonder does someone who is flexible on many, many things have a semi-serious issue with the flavor of toothpaste? And for that matter, any other slight shift that may come our way?
I guess that I could muse on the merits of one flavor over another, but I think it is something more than just a toothpaste issue. I suppose it could be a matter of familiarity or comfort. Perhaps it comes from our having to make large adjustments throughout life to the point that we don't like to deal with it on the small daily matters. Who knows what we will have to deal with outside of our doors, so we want no surprises or innovations in the brushing of our teeth. I know a cloistered nun who once told me that it wasn't desirable to have surprises at the dinner table. Maybe we are all like that on different issues. Changes in the little things in our daily routine upset us because we rely on the small things for essential stability. We may not be able to control the market or employment or interactions with others, but we should be able to rely on our toothpaste or coffee or what have you.
I'm hoping it is not a sign of limping into a new career as a curmudgeon. There's probably nothing more disconcerting to me than the idea of becoming a person of a certain age who rails against change and all those young whippersnappers. I think it is rather a sign of trying to find security for ourselves, things that remain stable despite the shakiness of many things in our lives. It's not earth shattering or of terribly high importance either, and I'm certain that it varies for everyone of us. And if clinging to the small securities gives us small comfort, perhaps it is a really good thing. But I do still wonder about it. And I plan to hunt for another tube of plain old Crest when the time comes for a new tube.
Teacher Voices: Stewart Matthews - Here's another post in my continuing series on teacher voices. I'm interviewing some of my former students who have gone on to become teachers. In this po...
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