Of dishwasher tablets and reading

We ran out of dishwasher tablets at the weekend. A sure sign that I haven’t managed to get to Costco for a few months. Or that I forgot the list if I did go. Dishwasher tablets are not something on the top of my mind usually.

My brain must have been bored or I was meant to be doing something I didn’t want to do, because I was hit by the impulse to check out Which?’s review of the best dishwasher tablets. Maybe I was just getting tired of buying the same ones every time, like washing powder, washing up liquid and cornflakes. But I was conscious that I couldn’t remember ever having bought a different brand, except in a dire emergency, and that when house sitters, unable to discern where we had left the ten boxes of tablets (I did say we got them from Costco…), had bought a different type, we tried them once and went back to what we knew.

I’m not sure if I was entirely surprised to find the brand we always used about two thirds of the way down the ratings, so far off the best buys that it was embarrassing. And own brand alternatives topped the chart. At about half the price. I was almost excited to buy the new, better, and cheaper ones. Almost. At the end of the day, they’re dishwasher tablets.

Dishwasher

My generation seems to have been pretty susceptible to advertising. I’ve just been spending twice what I needed to on an inferior products. But surely the more expensive ones should be better? Clearly not.

We grow up “knowing” a lot of things that, on proper inspection, turn out to be more suspect that we might like to admit.

Take shoes. We should get shoes for our children that have arch and other supports. Everyone knows that, don’t they? Hmmmm. I’ve been wearing flat shoes (you think men’s shoes are flat? – have a proper look) for a couple of years now. As an experiment, I recently wore a pair of worn-in “normal” shoes, with arch support and “properly” made, for a day and had parts of my legs hurt for two days afterwards. So they are back to gathering dust again, even though I suddenly noticed the almost extra inch of height they gave me. It turns out I haven’t shrunk with age after all, I’ve just lost an inch of heel on my shoes.

Dishwasher tablets and shoes are pretty trivial really. But we go through life picking up a heap of assumptions, beliefs and opinions which are sometimes based on not a lot. We might spend some of our teenage years rebelling against our parents, but by that time, we’ve already picked up enough from them without being aware of it, and a lot of it will stick. As a parent, it can be a scary thought. As an adult, it can be worrying to wonder how much of what I think is based on anything other than what I’ve picked up along the way. Or what advertisers have told me is good.

I find that reading can be a good way of seeing something in a different way.

Reading the considered views of someone who we don’t instinctively agree with might not lead us to change our minds, but I find that it can at least help us to see that there is an equally valid alternative viewpoint that isn’t built on stupidity or malice. It’s just a different perspective, perhaps based on a different hierarchy of principles or values.

Fiction is a wonderful way of allowing us to view the world through someone else’s eyes. As Harper Lee says in To Kill A Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Funnily enough, that was the line that has stuck with me since I read it thirty odd years ago. It might have been because an English teacher drummed it into us, of course, but it’s the only thing that has remained from all those years of English.

I hope that reading all those books can lead to some empathy with others which might otherwise not be there. If nothing else, it can certainly be a good reminder that people are fascinating. Even the ones trying to get me to pay more for my dishwasher tablets than I need to.

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