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Ask Dr. Helen

She's wearing her Pajamas and she's ready for your questions. Dr. Helen Smith, the forensic psychologist and blogger from Knoxville, Tennessee, co-star of PJM's Glenn and Helen Show, also known popularly as the Instawife, kicks off her new advice column with an important question on the topic of competence: "What should an adult be able to do?"

by
Helen Smith

Bio

June 26, 2007 - 5:04 am


For those of you who don’t know me,
I am a psychologist specializing in forensic issues, with a private practice in Knoxville, Tennessee and a blogger at drhelen.blogspot.com. My main interests are men’s issues, the influence of pop culture on society, forensic psychology, teens and kids who are violent, podcasting and filmmaking.

“Ask Dr.Helen” will be an interactive column with a question and answer format–you may ask me questions that have been haunting you or that you are just plain curious about that are relevant to your life, your thoughts, your love life, or about pop culture or society in general. I will answer some of the questions in this column as space provides. I would also welcome comments from readers that may add to, or expand upon my answers or you can just tell me how wrong you think I am and why – politely, please! This column is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to replace therapy or psychological treatment.

To get things started, I will ask and answer the first question–it is an important one: “What kinds of things should an adult be able to do?” I have thought about this question since reading this famous Heinlein quote:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Rather than focus on whether or not human beings should specialize, I present my personal list of what I think an adult should be able to do in order to make it in our modern society:

Drive a stick shift–do you know how many people can’t do this simple task? Come on, what if you get stuck on a beach vacation in the middle of nowhere and have to flee a hurricane and the original driver is too tired or hung over to drive. Don’t laugh, this happened to me and I gladly took over and drove for several hours.

Be able to swim a reasonable distance–Have you ever noticed the number of people who cannot swim? What’s with that? Have you ever been thrown into a pool as a gag, turned over in a canoe or been involved in a plane crash and had to swim to safety (okay, this last one is a stretch but you get the idea.) It’s important to learn to swim and be at least somewhat competent at it.

Surf the web and answer an email, for goodness sakes! Forget “programming a computer,” as Heinlein suggests. Have you talked to perfectly competent people who say they have no idea how to use the Internet, or who do not use email because it is “too complicated”? I have listened to people spout Russian literature who tell me they are “too old” to learn how to use the internet. There is no excuse for this, not even for those of you who are 95.

Understand and be able to use a basic handgun. Many people will oppose me on this one; they are pacifists, uninterested in guns, scared of guns, whatever. Yet hear me out. Even if you hate guns, knowing the basics of how handguns work (and you might have to shoot one to find out) will save you from looking like a buffoon if you work as a politician, journalist or are just debating the merits of gun ownership and want to at least give the appearance of having some knowledge of your subject. Debating about guns without understanding the basics of how they work is like engaging in magical thinking about the boogey man–but then, many people do this. And a gun is a tool, so it is important to know how the darn thing works just in case you are put in a position where you have to handle one at some point in your life.

Finally, the last skill on my list (maybe this one could replace “pitch manure” on Heinlein’s list) is probably the most important:

Give a good backrub. Okay, don’t do it at this Fairfax middle school in Virginia lest you be expelled, but know what it takes to make your love interest or significant other melt in your hands.

This skill will get you far in life, or at least in love. Footrubs are good, too!

If you have other suggestions to add to my list of basic life skills, drop in a comment or if you have a question or suggestion for another column, let me know in the comments or email me at askdrhelen at hotmail.com.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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