The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

There is nothing less common than common sense

Steve Perry offers:
An old running buddy of mine died recently. Man was the most brilliant and intellectually- intelligent fellow I ever knew. Certified genius, IQ pushing 170, high-level Mensa kinda guy. Married four times, had five grown kids, and in his youth was a champion gymnast. Also a life-long martial artist, worked out all the time. But there was a strong family history of heart disease, and he smoked -- hand-rolled, unfiltered cigarettes, a score or more a day -- and one fine morning not long past, he had a massive heart attack. Fifty-eight years old.

Goes to show you that a high IQ doesn't take the place of common sense ...
Steve Perry
A friend of mine has a saying: "Human beings are machines designed to succeed."  If that is true, then the real question is: what is your definition of success?  What we are playing with is the question of: "what happens if you live your life in balance?"  It is clear that Steve's friend had fitness down cold.  But fitness and health are two different things.  the disconnect between them is probably attributable to a home environment that stressed "doing" over "being," saying that he was valuable in terms of what he accomplished in the external world.  At a 170 IQ, he HAD to know the risks he was taking.  Now, it's possible that it was a calculated risk: he felt that he had these hereditary tendencies, and figured that he might die early anyway, so why deny himself the pleasure?  We would have to ask him whether he felt the way he died was an optimal expression of his Self.  If so, then he lived his life according to his values, and we can only criticise from an external perspective--which, in an existential sense, is about as pointless as shipping ice to the Arctic.  If he feels he made a mistake, then it would be useful to look more deeply, to speculate on where he got off track.
There is nothing less common than common sense.  If that were not true, we would not prize it so highly.  "Common sense" comes not just from knowledge in the world, but knowledge of how to apply those understandings to our lives.  We ALL screw up on this count.  I say it's because we are incorrectly calibrated: we are socially programmed to produce, to perform.  Not to evolve--and we are evolving beings.  You have to slow down, to listen to the inner voice. You have to aim at the balanced life: health, family/partnership, career.  ALL THREE.  If you do this, you simply can't go too wrong.
Mightn't Steve's friend have died anyway?  Or accomplished less than he did in what was doubtless a full and adventurous life?  Possibly.  Each of us must design a life in accordance with our own values and beliefs.  In the end, that is one of the most important things that any of us can do.