I’ve been thinking a lot about common sense lately. Let me rephrase that – I’ve been thinking about uncommon sense. You know, the kind of practiced response that lines up with social norms in a civil society?

And I’m trying not to be a cranky curmudgeon mom as I think through this.

For some reason, we’ve held on to our landline phone, despite everyone under this roof having a cell phone. And since the only people who call our landline phone are family members of a certain generation and political candidates, I’ve had some fun this summer.

For one, I’ve noticed that the political calls are more rhetoric than reason – and it doesn’t seem to matter whether they are in English or Spanish. Fallacies of composition and ad hominem attacks are commonplace.

Just last night, I saw that Heath Haussaman has ended polls on his NM Politics site. It seems that Mary Herrera’s supporters were gaming the system. Some might call this Machiavellian common sense – I find it simply disgusting. She’s lost my vote - not because of the actions of her supporters (you can't control what others do) but because of her silence on this matter. Ugh.

But that’s politics. Some say common sense doesn’t apply in that world. (I’m agnostic on that point).

Common sense is one of those things that we all hope our children will absorb by the time they are ready to live on their own. They get opportunities under our roof to try it out - and they fail plenty at first, as we would expect. But at some point, you start to see these failures turn into learning, which gets honed as common (or uncommon) sense.

Case in point. Like any city that abuts wilderness, Albuquerque has its share of dangers. We’ve got flash floods and lightning strikes during the monsoon season, bears and mountain lions roaming the Sandias, and fire threats along the bosque.

We’ve got other dangers within “civilization” - drunk drivers and inattentive drivers who mow down pedestrians and bicyclists, and idiots who shoot bullets into the air to celebrate Independence Day.

It is enough to make any parent nervous.

At some point you realize that you’ve got to teach your child how to deal with the big bad scary world outside. And you give them the basic tools for survival.

Here’s my list, gleaned from experience and observation.

• Get out of the pool when you hear thunder, even if you don’t see lightning.
• Don’t ride your bike in a lightning storm.
• Hike early in the morning during monsoon season and get off the mountaintop when the clouds start rolling in.
• Don’t walk down a wash during monsoon season.
• Don’t play in ditches. (And if you really must, get away from them when monsoon clouds start forming).
• Question politicians. Heck, question anyone who has easy solutions and a slick presentation. (This includes college and military recruiters).
• Don’t put food in your tent.
• Know how to deter a mountain lion or a bear – make noise, get big, and be aggressive if you have to.
• If you find pot shards or other historic artifacts while you are exploring, leave them there and keep quiet. If you must tell someone about your find, tell a ranger or an archaeologist.
• If you are going to carry a gun, know how to use it.
• Always tell someone where you are camping or hiking. Leave a map and your return ETA in your vehicle and with the rangers.
• Keep enough supplies in your daypack that you can survive for 2 days - this includes foil blanket and flares.
• Don’t set off fireworks in the bosque.
• Watch for erratic drivers – always yield to cars, even if the law gives you the right of way.
• If you hear gunshots on New Year’s Eve or the 4th of July, get inside.
• If you see a guy in the wilderness who is on the most wanted list of local law enforcement, be civil and wary. Do not open your mouth to let him know that you recognize him (as one of my son’s camping buddies started to do until a sharp elbow jab shushed him up).
• If you are wandering around solo in another country where you happen to look like a native, be sure you have your passport with you. (And your GSM phone. And the name and address of where you are staying – humor your mother).
• Always note the emergency exits.
• Sit in window seats when you fly.

Contrary to what you might assume from reading this list, I’m not a Chicken Little "the-sky-is-falling" mama. Most of this advice has been imparted and absorbed over decades – at this point I just do a little reminding a few times a year when I think it is warranted.

Teaching common sense to children is like playing Whac-A-Mole. Just when you nail down one concept, another issue comes up. And another. And another.

It requires figuring out how much parenting is too much (helicopter parenting) and how much is too little. I’m still working on this, but I tend to err on the side of lots of information and a fair amount of independence, especially when it comes to wilderness.

Some of this is due to watching smart city people make stupid decisions; I spent a few years of my young adulthood living on National Forest and BLM land. I still shake my head at the lack of common sense I saw – especially from visitors to the dude ranch down the road. (Note to city slickers: when there is an emergency grizzly alert and a local has just been mauled, this is not the time to go sauntering down the road for a walk.)

I decided that I wanted to raise children who had enough common sense to handle the unexpected – from flashfloods in Cibola National Forest to navigating public transit and pickpockets in a country where they don’t speak the language.

Over the years I’ve learned that the key seems to be a decent information base plus the ability to observe. Maybe my emphasis on observation comes from being hard of hearing – when you can’t always hear what is going on around you, you learn to read and rely on visual cues. Kids do mimic what they see, you know.

If you are diligent and combine what you know with what you see, at some point this morphs into common sense.

Or not.

If you are a parent, how do you traverse this terrain?

Views: 25

Comment by Barelas Babe on June 28, 2010 at 12:37pm
Window seats - a friend of mine who works for the State Department told me that this was what they were told to do when flying internationally. It was part of a whole list for increasing survival should your plane have a terrorist on it. And actually, not just any window seat, but mid-range (not front or back). The list is in my other place, and I can't find a copy online.

I threw that in as a "what-if". I'm not convinced this is something folks flying out of the Sunport need to obsess over, but as a mom, I figure there is no harm done in passing this on to my kids.
Comment by slamwagon on June 28, 2010 at 2:06pm
I assumed the window seat was for optimum viewing pleasure...
Comment by Carmen on June 28, 2010 at 2:19pm
I am a parent. And a grandparent. And what do I know? You do your best to teach them not to put their hand in the fire, but they go and do it anyway...lol! Perhaps life is it's own best teacher. They learn not to put their hand in the fire when they get burned. Figuratively speaking, of course. They get bumps and bruises and hopefully learn what causes those bumps and bruises. But not always. Did we always do what our parents told us? No. But I wished I had. However, we do learn best from life. And yes, there will always be those that common sense eludes. Part of life that we have to deal with them!
Comment by Stephanie James on June 28, 2010 at 4:08pm
You do your best to teach them not to put their hand in the fire, but they go and do it anyway

That's the way my son likes to learn. Had to touch the hot stove. Won't believe a word I say otherwise. He has to experience it.

I'll try to teach my kids all that is "common" to me. And, maybe compassion for others who haven't, for whatever reason, the same "sense" they do.
Comment by once banned twice shy on June 28, 2010 at 4:13pm
Window seats - a friend of mine who works for the State Department told me that this was what they were told to do when flying internationally. It was part of a whole list for increasing survival should your plane have a terrorist on it.

? That is the weirdest thing I have ever heard. What, terrorists are more appreciative of people who sit next to windows? Or...the window won't be on the part of the plane that hits the building? Does not compute.
Comment by shotsie on June 28, 2010 at 4:57pm
Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
Albert Einstein, (attributed)

And to that I say, amen, he is sooo spot on! The culture you grow up in has everything to do with how you perceive the world and spot and deal with its possibilities/dangers. Creative thinkers like Einstein push pass "common sense" solutions and see new possibilities, be it a law of physics, some unique engineering solution, some new musical riff, whatever... (Of course, always get out of the washes when it rains - that's common sense!)
Comment by Barelas Babe on June 28, 2010 at 7:56pm
@OTBS - I found a similar list to the one I have from the State Dept., but this comes from Dept of Defense. Check out F4 and F5 for details.
Comment by cc on June 29, 2010 at 7:55am
Or you can see what's going on outside the plane better?
BB - thanks for this post - enjoyed it a bunch.
Comment by cc on June 29, 2010 at 7:59am
As to how I traverse this terrain - just a lot of talking. Me spouse and i, by our talking a lot with daughter, and by listening to her, have come to a good place where we hash out right n wrong together. And the common sense has creeped in. Our daughter definitely has it, sometimes more than me! but I love your list. and worry that a bunch of those haven't gotten communicated!
Comment by RebLem on June 29, 2010 at 9:02am
One thing I have taken to doing is telling auto mechanics not to change my radio station presets. Few of them have the sense to avoid it without being told.


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