“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”
Good, old-fashioned common sense seems in short supply these days. I've tried to analyze this phenomenon as to cause and origination, and always come up at a loss. But here's my working hypothesis, one which I've now heard from a number of researchers who know far more than I do about just about everything. Common sense is acquired by doing common things, failing at some, succeeding at some, and learning from both failure and success.
Here's a case in point: When I was sixteen and had a brand new drivers license, my daddy owned an big, new Pontiac Bonneville—if you were of age in 1962, you know that means a land yacht of epic proportions. My cousin, Sandy, and I drove it uptown (all of 3 blocks from my home and easily walked) and I endeavored to park it in a public parking lot. Now, common sense would dictate that a car of that size would be difficult to park in a crowded parking lot, especially one that had straight-line parking spaces, but at 16, I had zero common sense, so I tried. I began by hitting the door of the car on my left side, then tried to back out and caught the bumper of the car on my right side, panicked and gunned the engine, hitting a car in the row behind me—now four cars, including my dad's, were trashed. My response to this calamity was to leap from the car, now diagonally blocking the traffic lane so that no one could pass, and run to the police station several blocks away. I entered, bawling like someone had just shot a baby, and screaming, “I just wrecked four cars in a parking lot! Help me, please!” After the shocked policemen stopped laughing, two of them very civilly walked back to the parking lot with me, extricated my car from the snarl of metal and rubber, and called my dad to come get it. It was a spectacular display of moronic misjudgment—from which I learned a great lesson. Ever since, the cars that I own are compact.
I wonder how often these days we allow children to learn things the hard way. There is now a good bit of research about the effects of over-protecting children, and taking care of their mistakes for them. We want to be good parents; I get that, but what happens as a result is that our children grow up to be incompetent adults. One of my sons worked for a couple of years in a recovery center. He spoke often about having to teach young men how to operate a washing machine, use a can opener; how to make a bed, and other simple household chores. Our children learn how to do things by trial and error, by trying and failing, and if we never allow them the dignity of that opportunity, they may earn multiple graduate degrees, but simply not have the walking-around sense to take care of themselves as adults. Common sense dictates, and research supports, that when we do something for a child that they can do for themselves, we undermine their confidence in their own abilities. That is not good parenting.
Everybody should be allowed to make stupid mistakes when they're young—how else will they learn? Learning such things as how to ask for help when they need it, where to go to get that help, and that they don't have to take themselves so darn seriously are life-long, and life-sustaining lessons. Samuel Taylor Coleridge had this to say about it: “Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.” We need more of that.
In the Spirit,