After running up our local mountain, my husband suggested we stop at our co-op to get some cereal. Since I didn’t know when we’d be back in town, I decided to stock up on other things as well, including two bottles of wine. The cashier was eighteen and legally can’t ring up wine so she called another employee to okay the purchase. I jokingly said I’d be happy to be carded since that would make me feel like I still looked young(ish). She turned to my husband instead and asked if he had an ID. He didn’t, because I was the one who was driving, so he hadn’t brought his wallet for our morning run; but he wasn’t buying the wine anyway. I was. So I pulled out my ID to show her (not that she asked me, mind you, but the whole thing seemed pretty funny, and I wanted to comply and feel younger at the same time — which could be the topic of another blog post). Just so you know I’m about to turn 48 and my husband is 51. Now he’s a very young looking 51, but there’s no way to mistake him for a twenty-year-old. The woman became somewhat agitated. She said that she was required to check his ID if we were together. This seemed crazy to us, given that I can buy wine when my 15-year-old son is with me, but she was pretty insistent. The cashier tried to be the voice of reason and suggested that they could use their common sense, but the woman was still uneasy and uncomfortable about me buying the wine. She did allow it, but reluctantly, and with the comment that she shouldn’t let me buy it, but she would this time. Our exchange about carding a middle-aged woman had suddenly turned surreal.
I later clarified the policy at our co-op and researched the Maine laws on carding, and while it’s within the rights of an employee to card people who are with someone who’s purchasing alcohol (let’s say you have a bunch of young looking people hanging around the beer cooler handing the buyer six packs – you can ask to see everyone’s ID in the group), it’s not a law that you must card people who are with the purchaser. You can exercise your judgment.
Which leads me to common sense. Rob Shetterly’s commencement speech was a clarion call for common sense. It is common sense not to despoil the ecosystems that support your own life (or it should be). It is common sense to seek nonviolent resolutions to conflict before going to war (or it should be). It is common sense not to use up limited resources (or it should be). It is common sense not to spend money you don’t have and can’t be confident you’ll acquire (or it should be).
I think that our common sense, while innate, is curiously diminished in school. We are asked to memorize names and dates of battles and fill in circles on standardized tests to demonstrate that we’ve followed these rules, yet commonsense might suggest that such learning and acquisition of facts isn’t really useful and that our time could be better spent. It is common sense to finish a thought, a paragraph, a sentence or a discussion, but when the bell rings in school, students are taught to respond like robots rather than learners and immediately get up and move to the next class. It is common sense to eat healthy, tasty and nutritious foods, but our school cafeterias by and large serve foods that are anything but. It is commonsense to allow children to move their energetic bodies, but our schools confine them in hard chairs the vast majority of their days and are taking away or lessening the time for recess.
After years of learning to suppress their common sense, is it any wonder that we have learned not to trust ourselves and our good minds? Common sense tells us we should foster our children’s common sense as they grow up, and cultivate their capacity to think clearly and act wisely (or it should be).