Take Five: Common sense, and why we are who we are

I’ve always been intrigued with the science of making decisions — what goes into the formulation of ideas, concrete data, insufficient data, the situation at the time a decision was made, the hoped-for results and the unintended consequences.

Every day, each of us makes hundreds of decisions. We make them for ourselves, our spouses, our children, co-workers, vendors, food servers, medical people, and on and on.

I believe that all of us have the free will to run our lives as we choose. This means that we’re free to make good decisions, poor decisions and no decisions. We can go batty, however, carrying the decision-making process to the Nth degree. We can also sermonize, moralize, preach, warn, promise, lie, exaggerate and predict what will and what won’t happen if we make this or that decision.

You get my point. Our lives today require a lot of decisions, a lot of choices, and possibly a lot of critical thinking. It was probably a lot easier when our forefathers sent their children out in the field to plow, pick, dig and plant. Today, for example, there are 900 channels on the tube. That is, if television is the choice; otherwise there are 900 other options of what to do.

Let me share with you a simple non-mathematical algorithm that I’ve used when I have to make a critical decision. Think of a three-legged stool, the kind found in old kitchens, or the kind people once sat upon to milk cows.

The seat represents the result of the decision — good or bad. Obviously if a bad decision is made, and a leg topples, you topple. The legs represent common sense, judgment, and the situation at the time.

Common sense: Do we all have the same common sense as part of our DNA? Most of us do. Do we recognize our own personal common sense as a shared value with the person next to us in a line to buy groceries? We know cutting in line is frowned on. We know not to talk in movies. We know not to go through stop signs without first stopping to check for crossing traffic.

Judgment: I say that good judgment comes from having good common sense. How can any of us use our judgment skills if we lack the ordinary everyday basic skills to pay attention to what our senses tell us?

Situation: I am convinced that what is going on around us factors heavily into the decisions we finally make.

I think I first became conscious of good judgment versus bad judgment when I was 9 and my father, a country doctor, took me on a house call one afternoon after school. A man had fallen off a ladder and his wife had placed a frantic call to Dr. Pepper. (Yes, I know.)

When we got to the house, my dad asked me to wait in the car and I did, wondering what had happened. About a half-hour later my father came back with a dismayed look on his face. He told me the man had climbed up the ladder holding a gallon can of paint in each hand. He had been painting the ceiling, he said, and didn’t want to come down from his perch too many times. My dad took care of his leg and muttered to me, “bad judgment.” I didn’t have to ask what that meant.

Bottom line? Common sense rules over everything else. We all need to be endowed with it.

GENE PEPPER is a published author and writer. Contact him by email at gpep@aol.com or phone (818) 790-1990.

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