I guess that, like most people, I enjoy patting myself on the back every now and then, or maybe more often than that. Also like most people, since I’m the one doing it, I don’t find much of anything wrong with that. On the other hand, I do think that this can be taken to unseemly extremes by folks who are not me, and a case in point, of which I am becoming particularly bored, involves the use of the term “street smart”.
If I may be allowed to pretend that you’ve been living in a cave for the last 20 years, let me explain that “street smart” is a label intended to describe someone who is particularly adept at taking care of him or herself in an urban setting, usually to the exclusion of everyone else, and despite a complete lack of any socially redeeming graces.
Time and Newsweek absolutely LOVE to describe young delinquents as “street smart”. It’s almost as if those writers secretly admire the astute business-sense and long-term planning of someone who would start dealing crack cocaine in the first place.
To give a simple example, if Jimmy has three apples; Big Otis, the 280-lb., 15-year-old pimp, trigger-man, and local mob representative, has 875 apples; and the creaky old lady down by the bus stop trying for dear life just to remain standing upright and, God willing, make it through one more long and painful day, has one apple. Jimmy gives Big Otis a wide berth and knocks over the old lady for HER apple.
This is “street smart”.
I guess what ticks me off is that the term is most often used to glorify the baser aspects of human existence; to celebrate “me-first” survival, over human decency.
If Jimmy had a clue as to who Mother Theresa was, he’d be sure to let you know that she was a dork.
Like the word “awesome”, “horse sense” once meant something different, but today it frequently refers to someone like Ernest.
Ernest may be a third-grade drop-out who lives in an old truck bed and beats his wife, who in turn beats their 11 sticky-dirty-snotty children (especially when in the check-out lane at Wal-Mart) but, among his peers, he is said to have “horse sense” because he never displays anything akin to generosity, sympathy, or open-mindedness.
The opposite of having “horse sense” is to be an “educated fool”. The term “educated fool” is extremely popular among uneducated fools. It describes someone, who, though literate, ambitious, and well-schooled, does things with which the speaker disagrees. Adlai Stevenson comes to mind.
The message is, if you’ve ever done anything for anyone else, ever voted in favor of anything, or ever given away anything, even something that you didn’t really want, then there’s something wrong with you.
Hmmm. This all sounds kinda preachy, doesn’t it? Funny where things can go when I get wound up. If I were more street smart, I’d probably trash it and write something else, but here it is after nine already, and that would be a lot of extra work.
The truth is, I got started on this line of thought the other day with a completely different idea in my head.
I was out driving the tractor (where I do some a muh bes’ thinkin’) and I watched a hawk flying over. Naturally, like any red-blooded American boy who grew up in the fifties, I immediately thought about the lyrics to Lorenz Hart’s theme from Oklahoma!:
“Every night my honey-lamb and I
Sit alone and talk, and watch a hawk
Makin’ lazy circles in the sky.”
I was thinking that while Hart may have been a big-time lyricist and probably used all the right forks and spoons etc., that he obviously didn’t have much horse sense in the classic definition of simply knowing something commonplace. (Please ignore everything else I just wrote.)
Never mind the difficulty one encounters in trying to watch anything, but bats, flying at night, I’m wagering that Hart never, ever, even once, sat with HIS honey-lamb and watched a hawk similarly.
Hawks are birds of prey. They don’t make lazy circles in the sky, they find a nice tree-top to perch in, and then they wait for an unsuspecting victim to show itself, at which time they swoop down and scoop up fuzzy Peter Cottontail or whomever.
What follows involves much blood, hair, and gristle.
Scientific tests have shown that baby chicks will go berserk when the silhouette of a hawk is held over their heads (as opposed to that of, say, a pigeon) so for a hawk to make lazy circles in the sky would be rather akin to sending out an all-points bulletin that they were preparing to eat someone down below. It just wouldn’t be productive from the hawk’s street-smart point of view.
What poor clueless Lorenz Hart is referring to, is the buzzard or turkey vulture, who catches slow summer updrafts (in the heat of the day) and rides them in a slow upward spiral in his search for tasty rotting meat.
Ergo, the proper song lyric SHOULD have been:
“Every DAY my honey-lamb and I
Steep ourselves in culture, and watch a vulture
Makin’ lazy circles in the sky.”
So like I say, the fact that you may or may not be a successful lyricist or a wealthy crack entrepreneur doesn’t mean that you know anything.
If you ask me (which no one seems to do much anymore) we need to start focusing on the things we don’t know and try to start learning from them.
It might not stop any wars, or end street crime, but perhaps we’d have fewer dopey musicals.