October 19, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Truth is truth because it’s common sense

Cynthia DewesAmong other things, life is instructive. The older we get, the more interesting factoids we accumulate. In fact, the very word “factoid” is new to me from my reading, probably because someone made it up in a desperate attempt to be profound. It’s a word I plan to delete from my memory.

The point is we have lots of information to process these days, and the more years that pass, the more we need to sort out what’s filling our heads. For example, when I forget something, my husband kindly says it’s because I have so much to remember. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

Cooking is one example. So much has changed since I made that first casserole. For one thing, it’s taken a few failures for me to understand that pork needn’t be cooked until it’s thoroughly dead, as we used to believe. We won’t contract trichinosis, and we’ll enjoy a much juicier and tastier meat if we cook it for less time.

I’ve also learned that sit-ups are now frowned upon for exercise, and that chocolate and red wine are good for you. Yay. On the other hand, taking family rides in the car just for the fun of it are no longer acceptable because of environmental pollution, dependence upon foreign oil, et cetera. Tsk.

It seems as though the wisdom we used to think immutable has become error today. It’s no longer good to drink lots of milk, eat red meat, put babies to sleep on their tummies or take no sass from kids of any age. Books are superfluous since everything we need to know is available to read on a computer. Learning to do math in our heads is unnecessary because we have calculators and other technologies to give us answers.

Serious moral infractions have been transformed into moral imperatives. Abortion upon request, assisted suicide, euthanasia and other procedures formerly considered anathema now seem like socially progressive ideas to a frightening number of people. It’s accepted as fact in entertainments and in life that people of every possible gender will have casual sex with virtual strangers outside, or even inside, of marriage.

Of course, many human notions have changed over time, and thankfully, some of them haven’t been reinstated. Things like steel corsets for feminine beauty, and bloodletting or medicines laced with arsenic in medical practice are long gone. Lucky for us.

On the other hand, some of the wisdom of the past is enjoying new attention and even admiration. We hear of “studies” which prove that the children in families who eat meals together two or three times a week are less likely to become involved in drugs or other bad behavior.

We’re told that the “quality” time that used to replace “quantity” for busy parents actually involves paying attention and listening to kids. Even common living skills such as handling money, keeping house or being mannerly are beginning to be taught formally, since they don’t seem to be taught at home any more and people everywhere miss their presence.

Well, duh. If it takes a few “studies” to learn common sense, that’s OK with me. It’s encouraging to those of us who miss civility and order and reflection.

So, instead of railing about modern faults, we should learn to wait patiently for what goes around to come around.

Just so it doesn’t bring back steel corsets and bloodletting.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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