Many years ago, one of my psychoanalytic patients said, “You know, Doc, it’s a lot easier for me to talk about dead people and bad dreams than it is for me to talk about handing this check to you each month.”
A poll of 20,000 people revealed that half of parents had never discussed finances with their children, and two-thirds had never revealed their income. With no comfortable discussion or little real information about money, the vacuum is filled by fantasy and personal myth. Children often conclude that things treated secretly and uncomfortably are bad and taboo. Their logic, based on the behavior they observe, can create a lifelong legacy of discomfort.
Also many years ago, on a cruise ship headed for a family adventure vacation, my son encountered casino gambling for the first time. It intrigued both of us, and we decided to form a business partnership for gambling. Since he was under age, he couldn’t actively participate, so he sat behind me as my “consultant” where he could see our cards and the action on the blackjack table, and whisper strategy and directions in my ear. Curious to me, at age 14, he was a considerably more accomplished gambler than me.
It was a wonderful opportunity for us to talk about some principles of business. Aware that the most common reason for failure of small businesses is inadequate capitalization, we decided to capitalize our venture at $50, $25 each. This amount seemed sufficient for losses that might otherwise disillusion or stop us, when we might need some “bounce-back money.” We also decided that we would never risk getting lower than $25, half our initial investment, on a single evening session. We also evolved principles, agreeing on when we would hold, when we would ask for another card, the amount of our standard bet, and under what circumstances we would deviate from our standard. We recognized the value of having already established this business plan once we were at the table and in the throes of impulsivity. And on the two or three occasions that we abandoned our rules, we learned important and expensive lessons that served to re-establish our principles even more firmly.
We gambled for approximately an hour and a half each night of the cruise. At the end of six evenings, we were, happily, ahead about 300%. In that time, we had seen roughly 40-50 people at our table come and go. We made the following observations about the similarities among those who did not win, especially those who lost spectacularly: they had no consistent “business plan” and those who appeared to have some standards abandoned them when emotion was high (big wins, big losses, or sustained streaks of wins or losses). Emotionally motivated behaviors were the rule, including anger at losing, overstimulation by winning big, or greed. Others had no established endpoint for loss or gain.
I was thankful for this opportunity for my son to see, firsthand, these basic business principles at work. And I loved our time together.
One evening an older woman looked at me indignantly when she saw what my son and I were doing. “I suppose you’re proud to be teaching your son how to gamble?” she said.
“No ma’am,” I said, “I’m proud that he’s teaching me.”