Just how stupid are we? This question leaps to mind almost every day, and it assaults my sensibilities. People in these United States love comfort, security, the familiar and known, and the vast majority of us simply want to live each day without fear. Why, then, do we do such unbelievable, irrational, and often downright idiotic things? How is it possible that one of the most highly educated countries in the world can consistently come up with so many outrageously bad ideas? Where is a glimmer, just a slim hope, of common sense? What am I talking about? Well, for example:
- months ago, when Senator Doug Jackson proposed allowing handguns in bars and restaurants (in my then-resident-state of Tennessee), many thought it was a joke. After all, Tennessee bar-fights are a form of recreation, and virtually no one I talked to thought adding firearms to the environment of alcohol-rich redneck dives was a good idea. (No, I am not suggesting that all bars in Tennessee are redneck dives, but there are an impressive number, nonetheless.) Then, it became clear that 37 other states have such laws, and that while gun violence has indeed increased in some of those venues, overall there haven’t been too many problems. One quote I read said that if gunplay occurred, the person’s permit was revoked and their gun was taken away. But the question that comes to my mind — aside from “rights” guaranteed by the Constitution — is simply this, Under what circumstances do ordinary, law-abiding citizens need to be carrying weapons into the Corner Tap or the local Applebee’s? Are we living in 19th century Dodge City? Is there a really good outcome anyone envisions for the equation “alcohol + firearms + late night + elevated emotions?” (Or even, “happy hour + crappy day + screaming kids throwing their “fun meals” + gun in the pocket” — which I see as an equally dangerous combination.) This isn’t at all directed at a person’s right to own and/or carry a weapon; this is about the application of common sense to a situation made unnecessarily potentially more dangerous for absolutely no good reason.
- The cause of a multi-car pile-up, resulting in two deaths was due to a woman talking on her cell phone, drinking hot coffee, smoking a cigarette, and applying nail polish while driving 70+ miles an hour down the highway. As a nation we can celebrate a decreasing trend in alcohol-related accidents and fatalities, but have you checked the cell-phone related accidents, fatalities, and injuries lately? Some estimates indicate that seven times as many accidents involved drivers distracted by cell phones (talking or texting) than any other cause. Beyond outright accidents, I wonder how much road rage increase there has been as a result of Joe or Jane drifting in and out of their lane doing twenty miles an hour under the speed limit because they are so wrapped up in their phone conversation… (this is the reason why I don’t own a gun. I would have to shoot these people.) In the office I worked before, I knew a woman who had seven fender-benders — all due to distraction involving her cell phone. Come on. What is so important that we recklessly endanger ourselves and others to talk on the phone? Should people have the right to “bear phones?” Certainly, but where can they acquire some common sense to go with them?
- A California community decided to make their homes “open bars” for teenagers — the thinking being if kids can drink at home it will keep them off the streets and make it safe. (Heaven forbid we tell Johnny he can’t drink until he’s 21 and then enforce it to the best of our abilities. That would be mean and uncool.) Parents were appalled when their precious angels produced an impressive jump in car accidents, DUIs, D&Ds, and a couple developed dependency problems. But when law enforcement got involved and told the parents to not allow the youth to drink, they got mad, hired an attorney, and got court permission to continue pumping booze into their babies. Are they insane? (I don’t know, maybe, I haven’t met them…) The right to make decisions in ones own home should be honored and protected. The problem here is that the house rules caused serious risks and problems outside the house. The kids moved around while “drinking at home” — endangering themselves and others. The lack of parental supervision in conjunction with parental permissiveness is simply not a good plan. Coolness factor? Questionable. Common sense? Nada.
- A young woman in Wyoming, learning to rappel, decided to unfasten her harness because “it bunched her top and made her look lumpy.” To no one’s surprise but her own, she fell, breaking both legs, shattering a wrist and her pelvis. She had been instructed in safety protocols, had been repeatedly warned not to alter any of the equipment or gear, and she signed a waiver acknowledging that she had received adequate instruction and warning and taking responsibility for the consequences of doing something risky. Of course, this woman sued. Of course, she won her case. Of course, she was rewarded for her own stupidity, vanity, and lack of even one iota of common sense.
These are just a few brief examples of what I am talking about, but they are not rare, isolated instances. Read any of the Darwin Awards books (or check out their website: Darwin Awards) that document the amazing heights to which human stupidity can soar. For example, this short note is on the site today:
USA’s 4th of July often provides a memorable fireworks-fueled fiasco. But this year, the holiday story is about “Darwin” Wendy, who met Matt in the ER because she broke her leg. See, she had a clever idea during a heat wave: bring cool air up from the basement! She opened a hole in the hall floor… and fell down that same hole a few hours later. Yes, we here at Darwin Awards don’t just report on idiots, we’re idiots ourselves.
Of course, nothing I am saying here applies to the church. One of the basic and universal gifts of the Spirit is a full measure of common sense. United Methodists are role models for rationality, clarity, fairness, insight, and good decision-making. Or, at least, we could be. It is one of the reason’s that our Christian faith is essentially a communal and shared faith rather than a private and individual faith. Together, we have a greater chance of being less stupid than we are on our own. In community, we test ideas differently than we do by ourselves or in small, isolated cliques. In a community, it is hard to believe people wouldn’t raise concerns about messing with rock-climbing gear, giving booze to adolescents, doing everything but drive in a car, or allow weapons in bars. There is at least a tendency toward balance in larger groups of people who care for, respect, appreciate, and feel responsibility for one another. Common sense is not a universal quality available to all in even measure. What makes it “common” is that it emerges from the “common union” (communion, community) for the “common good.” If this can’t happen in our churches, I wonder if it can happen anywhere?