Remember when you were little and went to the doctor? When it was all over, you got a lollipop or at least a sticker. I can recall taking my kids to the dentist every six months and waiting for them to select their prizes from the treasure chest. And potty training. I had a big ol’ basket of prizes for going on the potty. Yeah, I’m a little nostalgic for the days when a coloring book or a new can of Play-Doh were huge motivators. I don’t think there’s enough Play-Doh in the world to serve as compensation in the eyes of a teenager.
So yesterday, I became somewhat perplexed when I saw this story about a Florida job center giving away 6000 superhero capes as incentives to the unemployed. Maybe it’s just me, (I am Uncommon, after all.) but a cape is not going to motivate me to buckle down and search for a job. The promise of a paycheck–now that would get me going. But some genius in this government agency thought the best way to spend tens of thousands of dollars was to hand out dress-up costumes to the jobless.
It appears to me that a couple of trends in dealing with people are at work here. One is the Giveaway Factor. People love to get something for free, so maybe the job center was trying to capitalize on this. I see this play out every year on Ash Wednesday. Catholic churches will be full to capacity on Ash Wednesday, but why, when such a large number of Catholics avoid going to Mass on actual holy days of obligation and even on Sundays? My theory: it’s a giveaway day. Worshippers come out of church with a tangible something to show for their effort. Cynical, I know. They could all be embarking on their Lenten resolve to a more diligent practice of the faith. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of this in church attendance on the following Sundays. Palm Sunday is another example of the giveaway phenomenon in church.
Look no further than your neighborhood Sam’s Club or Costco to see the lure of freebies. Trying to get through the aisles near the freezer cases is like going against the flow in the Hajj to Mecca. (Look it up–people get trampled to death.) What’s the attraction? A thimble full of pork barbecue or maybe one Ritz cracker with some artichoke dip on top. But it’s FREE!! I suspect no one actually buys the products they are sampling. They just parade through the sample stations like it’s Early Bird hours at Golden Corral.
Another idea behind the capes clearly is the tendency to treat everyone like a 6-year-old. Anyone under the age of 30 has been tirelessly coddled by parents, teachers, coaches, college professors, and then employers. This is the generation of trophies for everyone, non-judged science fairs, invite the whole class to the birthday party, and school curricula full of endless re-takes and extra-credit along with throwing out the F on the grading scale. I guess it’s only logical then to continue the pattern of handing out prizes into adulthood.
There’s a prize for serving on jury duty:
You can get one of these just for keeping your yard from going redneck:
There’s even a reward for getting Americans off their lazy butts to do their duty as citizens:
Apparently the cape giveaway was abruptly terminated after the story went national. As ridiculous as it was, it may have gotten a handful of folks off the couch and into the job center. Or maybe the capes just made a lot of slackers feel really special. Super Slackers!! Well, back to the drawing board to find a way to lure people away from 99 weeks of money for not working.