common sense headerHave you ever had your own personal V8 moment? You know what I am talking about – those V-8 commercials where someone figures out something blatantly obvious and slaps themselves on the forehead and says, “I coulda had a V8”. As a personal connoisseur of Spicy V-8, I was always amused by those commercials but found them a little goofy. Did that fella really think he needed to eat that wheelbarrow full of carrots? But as goofy as some of the commercials seemed the message came through. A slap on your forehead and a realization of missing the blindingly obvious is your own personal V8 moment.

I recently had one of those moments.

As a former college football player and former west Texas oil field worker I am probably not supposed to admit this... but I love cooking shows. One of my favorite summer shows is “Master Chef”. I love watching these shows and getting ideas of things to cook and seeing how it is really done. I love the process of finding ingredients that go together to make new flavors. I have experimented many times with dinners and desserts and my wife seems rather pleased that I have taken up residency in our kitchen.

During one of the final episodes this past summer, the contestants of “Master Chef” had to cook pasta for a timed “pressure test”. I watched the judges just go nuts, because one of the contestants did not put a lid on the pot he was using for boiling water. One of the judges even asked incredulously, “Doesn’t he know the water will boil much faster if he would put a lid on that pot?” This is where my V-8 moment came. Putting a lid on a pot of water will make it boil faster? That not only makes sense, it made me feel like an imbecile because I had never thought of it. I boil water all the time and usually end up staring down waiting for those first bubbles to come only to blink or yawn or get distracted because apparently a watched pot is incapable of boiling.

How could I miss something so obvious?

I paused the show, got up and put 2 pots on the stove with 3 cups of water each, put the lid on one pot and left the other one open, turned the burners on high, and stood there and watched. You know what? The covered pot started boiling faster! In fact, it was boiling before the uncovered pot even had those little teaser bubbles form in the bottom. Excuse me a minute while I slap my forehead again as I think about this.

How simple is it to put a lid on a pot if you are trying to boil water?? It makes perfect sense. In fact, it would seem to be common sense. I pondered this for some time (yes it was a slow day) and I came to a conclusion that allowed me to cook again despite my shame. My conclusion was that I did not know to put on a lid because no one ever taught me to put on a lid. My conclusion was that common sense isn’t always common if it isn’t taught. I am a smart guy and I have all the degrees and I have started and run businesses and employed people and helped people with mental disorders cope better with their illnesses, yet I did not know to cover that pot.

Let me say it again: Common sense isn’t always common. It needs to be taught.

Before I start smacking my forehead again, let me share with you a story that my own common sense deficiency reminded me of. Dennis, my business partner and I, were in Orlando for a conference. I had that prime speaking slot of 8:00 am where I was competing with the continental breakfast for attendees. Because of my early speaking slot, Dennis and I went across the street from the convention center to a Denny’s for breakfast. When we arrived, we were a little shocked to see a line waiting to sit down and order at Denny’s but as we approached the line we saw that the mean age of the line was well north of 70 and so it made a little more sense. We assumed our position in line and listened to the conversations occurring around us. This wasn’t because we were curious or eaves-dropping. No, it was because all the old men in line were all talking at the same time and apparently they all had their hearing aids turned down low so that no one could interrupt their stories.

common sense q1The noise continued unabated until the door opened, and in walked a 15 year old boy. He walked right up to the front of the line. Somehow this boy’s presence caused all the yammering to cease and it became somewhat quiet. The boy walked right up to the front of the line and asked the “Maître D” for a job application. Now the low hum of the voices came to a deafening halt and there was silence. Every eye in that line turned to that boy and every mouth in that line began chewing on their tongues, biting their lips; doing anything they could to not say anything. As the boy walked out it was like a dam burst and pent up talking rang out tinged with a strong hint of laughter. Every old fella in that line was shaking his head and laughing and acting disgusted because that boy had the audacity to be out looking for a job dressed like that.

You see, the boy’s sin was that he was out job hunting and he was wearing his ball-cap on sideways. His shirt was a white, sleeveless undershirt. His pants were of the gravity-defying type and they were hanging down well past the line of his underwear. Every one of us in line knew the color and type of underwear this boy was wearing. He had the audacity to be out job hunting dressed like this. And these folks in line were incredulous.

I watched and listened to the laughter. I watched and listened to the mocking. As I did, I looked at my watch and saw that it was 6:30 am on a Saturday morning. This boy, this incredibly ill-dressed boy, was out looking for a job at 6:30 on a Saturday morning and he was dressed like that. I watched the boy walk to the restaurant next door as the laughter and the snide remarks continued. Door to door he went. I am guessing that he probably did not gain employment and he probably became a little disillusioned and he might have even given up trying.

common sense q2Common sense should have told that boy that if he wanted a job he needed to take off the hat, comb his hair, put on a real shirt, and pull up his pants. He apparently was willing to try. For goodness sake, he was out job hunting before the sun rose on a Saturday morning. He was going door to door looking for a job, but no one at home stopped him and said to simply put on a shirt, comb your hair, and pull up your pants. Common sense isn’t always common. It has to be taught.

I have often thought about that boy. I hope he found a job and didn’t give up. But the odds probably aren’t in his favor. You see, giving up isn’t a goal – it is a reality when our trying is continually met with failure. I am guessing that boy would have altered his dress for a job. Doing those simple things would have been a lot easier than getting up at that time of the day and walking door to door asking for applications. But common sense isn’t always common. It has to be taught.

I am often asked why I think our teachers need to spend their incredibly valuable time teaching social and emotional skills. After all, if it doesn’t help their reading, writing, or math skills then how can it have any place in our classrooms? The answer is simple, social and emotional skills are common sense skills and common sense isn’t always common. It needs to be taught. Do we want our kids to be polite? Someone has to teach them how and why. Do we want our kids to have ambition? Someone needs to teach them how and why. Do we want our kids to control their temper? Someone needs to teach them how and why. Do we want our kids to act and dress and carry themselves appropriately in restaurants and malls and on the streets? Then someone is going to have to teach them how to act and why they should act that way.

Now the questions and proclamations will come, “What about time? Teachers don’t have time!” And this is true. There are few professions that fully employ people as extensively as the teaching profession. The days are packed, the agendas are long and the expectations are often beyond reach. So why would we presume to add another thing to the teachers’ docket? The answer is simple; you can’t teach if your kids don’t have the common sense to learn. The common sense I am referring to here is how to sit down, how to pay attention, how to get along with classmates, how to manage distractions, how to handle expectations, how to control emotions and all the other common sense behaviors we all expect-- but are too often surprised when they aren’t always common.

If a teacher has a class of 25 and 5 of those kids don’t have these basic common sense abilities to be a part of the class, then that teacher is going to spend more time managing those 5 kids than teaching the rest. And in this all too common scenario, everyone loses – including the teacher. Common sense says to teach your kids the skills and behaviors necessary to learn, and then you will have a learning environment that makes teaching achievable… and who knows, maybe even enjoyable. So someone has to stand up and reassure our teachers – yes, your days are packed, and yes, the expectations are high and yes resources are limited, but what you do is too important to leave to chance. Teach the whole child, not just the reading and writing and math components. After all, common sense says you have to teach the whole child before those academic focuses can succeed. But that is common sense.

Let me say it again, common sense isn’t always common – in fact, most of the time it needs to be taught and, in the case of our teachers, it needs to be reassured.