The New Purveyors of Received Wisdom

Common sense has its place, and indeed a valuable role to play, in our day-to-day existence.

By Michelle Martin
Published August 25, 2009

It has become a truism that we moderns live too far away from our extended families. One of the consequences of this is a loss of knowledge, of shared advice. Unlike our esteemed editor (see Ryan's sig file), I am of the opinion that common sense has its place, and indeed a valuable role to play, in our day-to-day existence.

Take hand washing, for example. Because we don't have our mothers around to cluck their tongues if they observe that we haven't taught our own children to wash up after using the toilet, we now have signs [PDF link] in every public restroom telling everyone to do so.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not knocking this. If there really are people in this city who don't, then there bloody well should be signs up reminding them about the spread of disease.

Semmelweiss must be rolling in his grave - come to think of it, he fought against common sense when he argued for hand washing in hospitals, so I'll concede to Ryan in that case.

It's not only public health departments that have taken over the preservation of received wisdom that used to come from the family and the community. Homemaking magazines do the same. How else to explain editors who wrap up ridiculously obvious tips and hand them to us like gifts from Solomon to the Queen of Sheba?

So we read among housekeeping tips that it's important to wipe those spills up right away, before they harden into a sticky mess that takes twice as long to scrub. And we read among budgeting tips that it's a really, really bad idea to buy lunch out all the time when you're trying to save money. Or that by wearing a sweater and slippers around the house in the winter time you can turn down the thermostat and help save energy.

There is some generational wisdom they can't adequately reproduce, though. I still haven't found a recipe that will walk me through making tea biscuits like the unbelievably flaky ones my late grandfather used to make, measured and mixed with his large, capable hands.

I'm sure I could read every Chatelaine magazine in every dentist's office from Dundas to Grimsby and I still wouldn't find it. Jack (that's what he preferred for us all to call him) is probably pleased with the fact that his biscuit recipe followed him to his grave.

Magazine advice on taming clutter can be the most bizarre. Aside from touting the most immediate solution (get rid of stuff!) like they're the first ones who've thought of it and they're waaaay smarter than my uneducated grandmother who lived through the Great Depression, clutter-busting authors breezily bounce from the self-evident (put your books on a shelf!) to the self-evident (store out-of-season clothes!).

I know I'm ranting. Must be because I'm still annoyed after stopping to read an article in the Spec today, picked up from Real Simple magazine.

Yes, I put myself three minutes behind schedule before I left for work so I could unbury this nugget of orderliness:

Store batteries in their original packaging in a drawer.

Jack would have loved that one.

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton. The opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own.


View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By kat (anonymous) | Posted August 27, 2009 at 08:27:51

Great article! I know how you feel. I might be young still (23) but I do not get why these things are so difficult. Especially the hand washing thing. Why is that such a hassle? My parents always stressed the importance of it. And as for being organized...I think some of this was started as a conspiracy by the bubble wrap people to sell more bubble wrap for organizing.;)

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:41:45

I think it's just a further outgrowth of not being taught these things in the first place at times... either by cultural/gender expectations we don't need to know them, or because we're not sure when people become adults, we're not as sure to give them these skills by a certain time- not simply proximity to family as a resource.

With the "buying lunch" tip, the lack of basic cooking skills (among all socioeconomic groups and both genders) continually astounds me, as well as the perception it's this lofty, impossible skill set. We eat three times (or so) a day.... that's a pretty important skill to learn!

Not to mention that most basic meals take about five ingredients (plus maybe a couple spices) and just about any recipe can be looked up in a book (or online).

Then again, I can't make my grandmother's zwieback, either - even with her recipe. It just doesn't turn out the same

I remember someone (who is a lovely person) that I talked to a couple weeks ago whose son is going off to university and was considering living in a house. On the nights he had to cook, they thought they'd send along food like spaghetti sauce, because cooking might be too complicated.

I really like and respect these people... but I still thought "Really? Something that takes 2 ingredients is that difficult? Meat and sauce cannot be cooked and combined by an 18-year-old?" Even if you teach him how to saute an onion and use a couple spices as well, it's not engineering, which is what your son wants to study...

Ah well, now I'm ranting.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted August 28, 2009 at 07:45:57

Re: the above comment. Common sense is what works best in a given situation, to the best of our knowledge so far (that's my unofficial definition). The word sense implies observation, which to my mind ties it to scientific advancement somewhat. Which is why it can change. This, of course, is different from objective truth.

As for me and my house, we get the kids vaccinated.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

There are no upcoming events right now.
Why not post one?

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools