posted by Matt W on August 6th, 2014

While I was writing a recent blog, I was having a hard time coming up with the term “common sense.” After thinking for a while, I finally came up with the phrase, but then it struck me, the reason I was struggling so much was I hadn’t heard anyone use the phrase in years. And then delving further into that thought I realized people don’t use the phrase because apparently no one has it anymore.

It used to be there were smart people and there were not so smart people, but everyone had enough common sense to be able to do anything that didn’t require a degree. Medical doctor, degree; plunge toilet, common sense; design skyscraper, degree; change oil in car, common sense, and so on. Not anymore.

I was listening to NPR the other day and they were talking about a study of decision making in humans and fish and the study found that when in a group, fish made far better decisions than humans. When they delved into why a school of fish typically made good decisions, they found that fish will always follow who they perceive to be the smartest fish. The smartest fish typically has the best chance of keeping the other fish from danger, finding the best food, etc. so as a group they followed that fish. When they introduced a smarter fish into the group, the current lead fish almost instantly deferred to the newer smarter fish, and if they removed the lead fish the next smartest in the group stepped up. As humans I think we have forgotten this useful trait.

When I was a kid I typically followed my dad around watching him do things. He was definitely the smartest fish in our little group. I don’t remember being taught how to change the oil in a car, but I certainly watched the activity many times. When my father deferred to someone in the room as the new expert, I would then watch them. I loved following my grandfather around. Coaches and teachers of mine also had my attention. When I was put into a situation where I actually had to use my brain, I was ready. I was also ready to be the leader when my “pack of fish” needed me. Those younger than my middle aged companions, not so much. Kids started getting hauled to every event, told not shown what to do in every situation, and set in front of TV or computer screens when their parent couldn’t keep them entertained. I’m guilty of all of the above. And apparently when a child’s only real brain function goes to controlling their thumbs, common sense is lost. Now I will admit I was bored at times, lacking the constant stimulation my children receive, but dealing with that is also a life skill.

Every generation of parents, has to deal with some new issue their parents didn’t have to deal with. Dealing with technology has certainly knocked me around as a parent as much as any child rearing issue. Well, so far I haven’t come up with a good way to really instill common sense in my kids, so I guess I’ll just have them eat more fish. Hopefully some of their traits will be absorbed.

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