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Just what is common sense?

Oct 13, 2012 - By Randy Tucker

And if it's so common, then why does it seem to be in such short supply?

One of the basic premises of Buddhism is the belief that the nature of one's existence is determined by karma. We often comment on good and bad karma, but few of us in the western world really give the concept much serious thought.

Akin to the concept of karma determining the state of our existence is a concept we in Wyoming are much more familiar with: common sense. Common sense in the context that our actions are responsible for the results we receive.

As often as we hear people joke about karma, we hear others lament the demise of common sense with much more frequency.

Just what constitutes "common sense?" If it is such an ordinary thing, why is there such an apparent shortage of it among us?

Common sense comes early in life. It is one of the tenets of growing up in the rural West to use your friends or cousins from the city's lack of it against them for a good laugh. Raise your hand if you're guilty of getting one of them to grab an electric fence or, better yet, convincing your 9-year old cousin to urinate on it. Common sense, in survival mode, quickly followed every incident as promises were elicited to not to tell their mom, aunt or grandma.

Fathers, uncles and grandfathers didn't count because they'd done the same thing a generation earlier and would just laugh.

Here are a few examples of common sense in practice that we take for granted in this place we call home.

Front doors, garage doors, barn doors and open stalls should all face in which direction? You get an A if you said south, but southeast works just as well, and you still get full credit if you said east in many locations across the Cowboy State. Prevailing winds always come out of the West, north or northwest, and a bit of architectural planning can be a wonderful thing.

You can clear sagebrush much more effectively by irrigating it than you can by plowing, grinding or burning it. You can kill alfalfa just as quickly with too much water.

A newly arrived neighbor asked me one day why he had so much foxtail growing in his field.

I asked him how much he irrigated the field. He said, "I've been dumping water on it every day, and the foxtail just gets thicker."

Another bit of common knowledge in the agricultural West: some plants thrive in water, foxtail being one of the most obvious. Pour too much water on it and your beautiful hay field will change from a vibrant green with dots of purple to a swaying mass of equally attractive flaxen colored heads of short grass, grass that is not only useless for livestock but dangerous as well.

Common sense extends well beyond basic horticulture into nearly every aspect of life.

During the last two generations in Fremont County very few people locked their doors. Keys were kept in vehicles, and it was an ordinary occurrence for tractors and trucks to be borrowed by neighbors in emergencies.

If your neighbor's tractor was stuck when you weren't home, it was perfectly fine for him to borrow it to pull his out.

Often the only way you could tell the tractor had been borrowed was that it was now full of fuel, which was also a tradition.

One of the biggest mistakes newly arrived residents from Colorado, California or one of the other "civilized" areas of the West make when they get here is to immediately build padlocked gates, install locks on every outbuilding, and create a fortress where open doors once stood.

I've often told newcomers who feel the urge to lock everything up that all it signals is that you have something worth stealing. Protecting your property is one thing, but putting absolutely everything you own behind lock and key borders on the insane.

In another bit of conventional wisdom, this one with a bit more merit than most, you should never trust someone who locks everything up.

In one of the many quirks of human nature, it's the man with dozens of keys in his pocket that you can't trust. People view others in the manner that they view themselves. People who don't trust others are inherently unworthy of trust themselves.

Intelligent people often make the mistake that everyone understands the world with the ease and simplicity they do. It is always a mistake to assume the other person is exactly on your level. That's rarely true. Most of the time they're either ahead or behind your train of thought.

That, too, can lead to good or bad karma. Reading a situation correctly isn't a transcendental act. It is often just using the wisdom that comes in applying that archaic concept of common sense to everyday occurrences.

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