Common Sense


Fellowship Class

Tarrytown United Methodist Church

Jan. 19, 1997

Wayne Danielson

Common Sense

Son Paul has applied for a bigger job in the insurance company he works for. This last week he has called me on his car phone three or four times as he was driving home from work.  Usually he catches me in the middle of eating dinner.  When the phone rings as the first forkful is rising to my mouth, LaVonne just laughs and says, “It’s Paul.”

She’s almost always right.  He has been calling a lot to talk over problems associated with his trying to get this new job.  Paul already has a good position.  He’s manager of the Houston office, with responsibility for central and south Texas. His office has more than $20 million of insurance in force.   But he has a chance to be a vice president in charge of sales in all the offices like his, about nine of them, I think.  He would have to move to Boston if he gets the new job, but Judy is willing.    Between mouthfuls of spaghetti, I advised Paul to go for it even though he is young -- just 33 -- and there are others with more seniority more likely to get the job.

“Go ahead and do it.  Applying shows you’re interested and ambitious,” I said.  “Even if you don’t get this job, management will know you’re out there.  You run a good operation -- let them know about it. Ask for the job.”

I may even have quoted my favorite proverb, one that a friend of mine, Ken Byerly,  made up years ago: “He who tooteth not his own horn, neither shall it be tooted.”

“If you don’t have the courage to ask for what you want, and make a case for yourself, you are unlikely ever to get it,” I said.  “Go for it.”

That’s just common sense.

Luke 11:5-13. He also said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, ‘My friend, lend me three loaves because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him; and the man answers from inside the house: “Do not bother me.  The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed.  I cannot get up to give it you.’ I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it to him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.  For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds, the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.  What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread?  Or hand him a snake instead of a fish?  Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

In preparing his application, Paul had to ask his immediate boss, who runs the Dallas office, to write a letter of recommendation for him.  This fellow might have applied for the same position, but he decided at the last minute that he didn’t want to leave Texas right now.    Nevertheless, he was kind of ticked off at Paul -- his subordinate -- for applying.  If Paul gets the job, you see, his old boss will be reporting to him.  He didn’t write a very enthusiastic letter.

That’s understandable, I suppose.  But it’s probably a mistake on the boss’s part, in my opinion.  If I agree to write a letter for someone, I always write him a good one, even if he is not one of my favorite people in the world.  I sit up late thinking of the good things I can honestly say about him.  I don’t write any of those tricky double-meaning phrases like, “You will be lucky to get this person to work for you.”  I play it straight and write the best letter I can.

If I am successful in writing my letter, the person I am writing for will get the new job and will be out of my territory.  That’s great.  If I ever have a flat tire in his town, I can call him and he’ll send a truck out or even come himself.  On the other hand, if he  doesn’t get the job, he will still appreciate what I said, and he is likely to support me later on.  Chances are, I have improved our relationship.  He’ll return the favor some day.

That’s just common sense.

Matthew 5:43.  “You have learned how it was said: You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you:  in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.  For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit?   Even the tax collector’s do as much, do they not?  And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional?  Even the pagans do so much, do they not?  You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Love your enemies.

Daughter Grace is changing jobs, too. 

She was working under a grant program as a pediatric nurse practitioner in a school in northeast Austin, providing health care for kids whose families don’t have any other way to get it right now.  Grace saw the children during school hours, did what she could for them, and got referrals to other public health clinics that could give them the care she could not provide.

She had a lot of trouble on the job, however.  The principal of the school told her one thing.  The social worker told her another.  The manager of the public clinic her clinic was attached to told her something else.  There was a lot of of stress.

The sticking point came on this issue:  the social worker wanted Grace to keep the clinic open at night when she would be the only person in the school.  She was supposed to go to the front door and unlock it and let people in and take them to her office. Grace said she didn’t feel safe doing that.  She said parents whose kids were sick and who needed help could find ways to come during regular school hours .  The principal was sympathetic, but she eventually sided with the social worker.  The public health clinic people said Grace was correct, and they didn’t want her operating the clinic alone at night.

Finally, the social worker called Grace a racist and said she didn’t respect the black and Mexican American community.  Grace said she wasn’t a racist, but everybody could see that the neighborhood had a high crime rate and a lot of drug addicts in it, and word would get around that she was alone at the school at night running an office with drugs and needles in it.  It was her life at risk, not the social worker’s.  She had her own family to think about.  She thought she was right.  She had one too many people telling her what to do and how to do it..  She decided to quit.  Her last day was Thursday. 

I told her I thought she did the right thing.  She had made a professional decision that was worthy of respect. She simply had too many bosses.  It wouldn’t work out.

Matthew 6:24. No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other  He cannot serve God and mammon.

As most of you know, I have been working for nearly three years on a research project studying violence on TV.  One of the by-products of this research -- and other studies being done elsewhere in the country -- is that the TV industry is beginning to put ratings on TV shows.  These ratings were created by Jack Valenti, and they are like the ones he devised for the movies years ago.  They’ll just say what Hage level the show is appropriate for.  They won’t tell parents what’s objectionable about the show -- how much violence is in it, for example, or how much sex, or how much bad language.

I think a political battle will be coming up about this, with the industry on one side and parental groups on the other.  It’s a difficult question.  Lots of money is at stake.  Advertising revenue is tied to viewership, and losing viewers means losing millions of dollars.  The industry has a good reason for wanting to keep the ratings vague.  

I’m not in favor of censorship.  After all, I’m a journalist, and I’m a free American, and I’m an independent thinker.   It seems to me that  in general people should be able to say and write what they want to say the way they want to say it.  But I do believe that if the words and pictures go out over the airwaves owned by all the people, then the people have a right to know what those words and pictures are likely to say.  The people deserve a fair warning of what’s coming up in a show.  If they have children and they want to know more specifically what the show is about, then I say we need to find a way to let them know.

What they do then is up to them.  That’s their choice.

What should they do?  I think that when they run into content they find to be unacceptable they should press the little button and turn the set to another channel or just turn it off.  What goes into your mind and comes out of your mouth does make a difference in the kind of person you are.  I’m convinced of that.  You can’t immerse yourself in violence without becoming violent yourself or at least becoming more accepting of violence.   You can’t swear all day on the job and turn it off at night when you walk in the front door.  It just doesn’t work that way.

The other day we rented the movie, “Pulp Fiction.”  It is a wild and woolly film.  Every other word is offensive.  I found it shocking at first, but by the end of the movie I didn’t even hear those words any more.  I quickly became desensitized to them.  As a matter of fact, I even found myself using a few around the house afterward, but LaVonne soon took care of that problem.

But the principle is there.  It’s just common sense.  What should we put in our minds?  What should we talk about?  How should we talk about it?  If we put garbage in, sooner or later garbage will start coming out.  The words we listen to and the words we use do make a difference in the persons we are and the persons we become.  I’m convinced of that.

Philippians 4: 8. Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, what–soever things are of good report: If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.


A few years ago, I read a column in the paper complaining about people who went to church and the effect that church had upon them.  The columnist’s opinion was that going to church was stupid and that the people who went regularly became even more stupid.  In particular, I remember that he wrote, “When you enter a church, your IQ to drops 15 points.”

I was angry about what he wrote, and I knew that he was wrong, but I didn’t have a good response for him at the time.  I’ve thought about it off and on ever since.  I am willing to admit that going to church doesn’t really do much about our basic ability to do math or solve puzzles or read faster or answer multiple-choice questions about American history.  Not all preachers are mental giants.  Not all Sunday School teachers are Einsteins.  We all know that.

But there is something about going to church that does improve our minds, I am convinced of that.  Going to church is not just about becoming a better person, it is about becoming a smarter person in some way.  I think we do learn in church.  When we hear the scriptures, we learn.  When we sing the songs, we learn.  When we listen to the sermons, we learn.  When we gather together with our neighbors to pray in the church, we learn.  But what is it exactly that we learn?  How does going to church change us?

The answer, I have come to believe, lies in some of the modern work being done on human intelligence.  This work says, in effect, that the old tests of intelligence -- the familiar IQ tests -- covered only part of what it means to be an intelligent human being.  The old tests concentrated on verbal intelligence and mathematical intelligence.  Heaven knows we need these types of intelligence.  We need to be able to read well and write well. We need to improve our vocabularies.  We need to learn to express ourselves more clearly.  We need to be able to balance our bank statements and understand what our credit  card interest rate really is.  But there are other kinds of intelligence that may be unrelated to these two kinds. We know that now.

What about musical intelligence?  What about Vivaldi?  What about Mozart?  What about Bach?  What about Beethoven?  They had gifts of intelligence -- the intelligence to hear and remember melodies and harmonies and to create new ones that charm and fascinate us.  Musical intelligence doesn’t necessarily¸ go along with verbal and mathematical intelligence, but who would deny its existence?

What about artistic intelligence?  Think of what Michelangelo, Raphael, Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso accomplished.  They had intelligence -- the intelligence to see colors and form in ways no one else had ever seen them and to create art that we still understand and love years, decades, centuries later.  Artistic intelligence isn’t necessarily correlated with verbal and mathematical intelligence. It is its own talent.  And there is no question that it exists.  When LaVonne advises me to change my tie in the morning, I never argue about it.  I think it’s blue --  she things it’s purple.  I know that she’s right.

And how about bodily intelligence?  Can you dance?  Can you hear the beat and move with it?   Can you clap your hands on beats two and four instead of one and three?  There is an intelligence of the body in motion, isn't there?   Do you have the gift?  I envy you if you do.  We watch the Super Bowl to see -- what?  To see some tight end solve math problems?  Not at all.  We watch to see bodily intelligence at work -- we watch to see a man running down the field with every muscle, every every bone, every nerve coordinated.  We watch to see him to leap into the air in the midst of total confusion and catch a pass coming at him at 40 miles an hour.  Intelligence?  You bet.  And most of us wish we had that intelligence of the body.  We’d be making far more an hour than we can make with our meager gifts of verbal and mathematical ability.

And how about emotional intelligence?  This is a new term for an old idea.  Some people -- you probably know a few -- have no idea how they come across to others.  They say the wrong things.  They do the wrong things.  They tick people off royally and they have no idea why.  They can’t relate to others.  They have no idea how others react to them.  They remind me of the farmer who used to go out in the morning to hitch up his mule and drive him to the fields‚ to work.  Before he did anything, he always picked up a 2 by 4 and hit the mule across the head.  A neighbor asked him why he did such an unkind thing.  The farmer replied, “I can’t teach him nothing until I get his attention.”

Well some people are like that mule.  They may be great mathematicians.  They may be famous writers.  They may be wonderful actors or artists or musicians.  They may have IQs that are off the chart.  But that does not mean that they understand other people or how other people respond to them personally.  They may not know how to get along with anybody.  They have to be cracked on the head by life before they ever begin to get it.  We say that they are low on emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence: Why  It Can Matter More Than IQ, writes:

Much evidence testifies that people who are emotionally adept -- who know and manage their own feelings well, and who read and deal effectively with other people’s feelings -- are at an advantage in any domain of life, whether romance and intimate relationships or picking up the unspoken rules that govern success in organizational politics.  People with well-developed emotional skills are also more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of mind that foster their own productivity; people who cannot master some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought.

I think there is some truth in that, don’t you?

Is emotional intelligence important?  I think it is.  I suspect that it is as important, and probably more important than the other kinds. All of us know really bright people who have never made a success of anything they have tried because they have low emotional intelligence.   Emotional intelligence is what we need to operate effectively in society.  Emotional intelligence is what makes a good society.  And emotional intelligence, in my opinion, is one of the main things that we can learn in the church.  In my opinion, when we go to church and really listen to what is being said there, our emotional intelligence increases.

The holy scriptures represent 5,000 years of accumulated wisdom about human beings and human interaction.  They distill in proverbs and psalms and story and poetry the things we need to know about our emotions -- how to understand ourselves and others,  how to become more sensitive people,  how to live in more peaceful homes,  how to create more productive communities.  When Jesus talked about bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth, and when he asked us to pray for its coming, what was he after, what did he mean?  No one knows for sure, and this is just one man’s opinion, but I think he was, among other things, talking about improving our chances for creating a society of emotionally intelligent people.

Emotional intelligence is just common sense, you say. 

That’s right.  But doesn’t it seem to you that common sense is in mighty short supply these days?  It often seems that way to me.  And I think that if this kind of sense -- this kind of intelligence -- increases most readily in the context of the church and the synagogue, then we should be in the church and the synagogue.  We should be there.  We should try to live our lives in  the presence of the holy scriptures and in prayer.

Is there something that you need?  Don’t keep it bottled up inside. Don’t let frustration and anger build.  Prepare you thoughts, your ideas, pray for guidance, and then go ask for it.  That’s common sense.  That’s emotional intelligence.  That thought comes from the Bible.

How do you win over an enemy?  Crush him? Annihilate him?  Or forgive him?  Be kind to him?  Give him that pat on the back?  The answer is the latter.  It may not be obvious.  But it is common sense.  It is emotional intelligence.  And it comes from the teachings of Jesus.

Are you unhappy in your work?  Does your employer respect you?  Do you respect your employer?  How many employers do you have?  These are questions you need to ask.  And based on the answers you get, you will know what is best to do.  A workman is worthy of his hire.  No man can serve two masters.  Those are common sense starting points for improving your working life.  They are the emotionally intelligent thing to do.  They are based on the scriptures.

Are the things that we read, the films that we watch, the words that we say unimportant?  Can we think one way and act another?  Can we think harmful gossipy thoughts all the time and remain good people?  Can we swear all the time and remain pure in heart?  Common sense says no.  The holy scriptures say that as a man thinks in his heart so is he.  Saint Paul says that we should think about the things that are true and honest and of good report.  Call it common sense.  Call it emotional intelligence.  It doesn’t matter what we call it. What it is is what we learn in church.

I’m grateful that in our time our understanding of human intelligence is increasing.  I am glad that we now recognize that there are many different types of intelligence.  Intelligence is not just reading and writing and adding and subtracting.  Intelligence is also musical ability and artistic ability and moving our bodies gracefully.  It’s about singing and drawing and catching a football.  It’s also about understanding other people and how to get along with them.  It’s about understanding ourselves and why we act the way we do.  It’s about why our acts and our thoughts are important in making us the kind of people we are and the kind of people we will become.   It doesn’t matter whether we think of these abilities as being emotional intelligence or just common sense.  What does matter, I think, is that many of us need more of it than we have right now.  And the church is a good place to find it.