What would your rather be, school smart or street smart? I am lucky enough to say that I have a little bit of both. I am not sure if I can really equate street smarts to common sense, but I believe that to be street smart you have to begin by having common sense. I think you learn to be street smart by learning common sense the hard way.
Colombia is a country that is portrayed as dangerous and full of violence. While some of those reports are over inflated and at times misleading there is true to some of the insecurity in the country. There are a lot of people that are living in very precarious conditions. Some are simply thugs; some are people that need to steal to survive. Living in an environment where you have to always be alert changes things about your world perception. The Unites States is no different. There are places where people struggle or chose a life of crime. There are neighborhoods where you also have to watch what you do and how you do it.
The big difference between the US and Colombia is that there are pockets of innocence all over the US. There are plenty of communities where the “Pleasantville” atmosphere still lives. Is this a false sense of security? Or Are their communities really that safe? I am not sure, but I believe that in today’s age, everyone can do with a little street smart.
Is it something that can be taught? I don’t know. Let me tell you a little story of how I learned to be street smart. Before I moved to the US I had a fascination with baseball caps. Here in the US they are both cheap and attainable, but in Colombia they were kind of a hard to get accessory, especially if they were team licensed. I was about 12. I was painting the fence in our front yard when a couple of guys in a motorcycle approached the fence. I was wearing one of my baseball caps. The guy pretended to ask for directions and kept on lowering his voice so I had to get closer… I wanted to help him out, so I kept on getting closer… when I got within an arm length he reached for my cap and took off. At the time I felt safe, I was behind the fence inside my own front yard, but I still got mugged. That thought me a valuable lesson about talking to strangers even in my own house.
I also believe that knowing street smart also encompasses being able to talk to people from all different backgrounds and social statuses. Being able to roam around different social circles has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I attribute a lot of it to street smarts and respect. Knowing what to say and what not to say can open door for you everywhere you go.
I’ve had plenty of people make fun of me for the use of the word Sir. I use it quite often during conversation specially when I don’t know a person. I also use it with my friends when I greet them. A lot of people from past generations still regard that as a sign of respect, even if some people from my generation might see it as a way to put myself down or kiss butt. I believe that my elders should be addressed as Sir or Mam in most situations.
There are plenty of other stories that I can tell you about learning lessons from just being in a tough environment, but would you really learn from them or do you have to live in a city to really learn street smarts? I think it is a good skill to have.