Dear Next Generation: A ‘Common Sense Checklist’

Advice from our readers to our young people
September 8, 2020 Updated: September 14, 2020

As an operations officer for an aviation unit, I was responsible for a group of soldiers who didn’t appear to have any common sense. It became exhausting to counsel them in accomplishing their mission without screwing up in one way or another.

In aviation, we always use checklists, from preflight all the way to parking and engine shutdown. It keeps us out of trouble. So I applied the same thought process with my soldiers, produced a little card, which they all were required to memorize and to act upon, challenging each other, and the results were fantastic:  The morale improved, discipline improved, the mission accomplishment improved, and everyone was happier, especially me. Here it is:

Common Sense Checklist

You can do anything you want, at anytime you want, without asking permission. However, You SHALL ask yourself these 4 questions.

The answers to all 4 questions MUST be YES.

If you answer HONESTLY any question with a NO, then you cannot do it.

1. Is it SAFE?
2. Is it LEGAL?
3. Is it MORAL?
4. Does it MAKE SENSE?

WARNING: Failure to answer each question honestly may result in embarrassment, loss of finances, loss of freedom, or loss of life.

When our son turned 4 years old, we taught it to him. Fast forward when he was 16, using my car to go on dates and such. He would wave goodbye to us as he was leaving, and I would hold up 4 fingers. He knew exactly what I was talking about.

A few years later he was selected as the commandant of the USAF ROTC unit at the University of Georgia. UGA was a real party school, and there was a problem with the underclassmen in ROTC unit drinking. He called one evening and shared with me his plan to solve it. He gathered his subordinate commanders for a military meeting and explained that the problem drinking had to STOP.

He gave the order that they could work individually or as a group to offer solutions to the problem. Additionally they would meet at the end of the week to explain their plan(s). He would pick one of the plans, it would be implemented and enforced.  Then he passed out the Common Sense Checklist cards to each subordinate commander with enough for each future airman. “Your airmen will memorize this. If I discover that anyone of them does not know it by the end of the week, I am going to hold you personally responsible. Do you have any questions? DISMISSED!!!”

Now he flies for a major airline. During his psych interview, he was asked, “How do you make decisions?”

He started laughing and replied, “I have this thing stuck in my head, and I can’t get rid of it.”

Thomas W Owen
CW4, Aviation
U.S. Army (Ret)


In the late ’70s, there was a bumper sticker on the back of a motor home that caught my eye and angered me at the same time. I have never forgotten what it said and have pondered it ever since. It read, “We are spending our kids’ inheritance.”

At the time, I’m sure that I was in fact a selfish young person who just wanted the golden ticket instead of the long road of hard work and chance. That was some 50 years ago, and now I am those people, with the opportunity to spend or share. I’ve realized that the world I grew up in was different, the parents did their job growing you until you finished school and then the conveyor belt of life kicked you out of the nest, ready or not—”Free fall until you fly or fail. We did it, now it’s your turn. Good luck!” And free-fall we did: no money, paycheck-to-paycheck with endless hardships ahead, but we were free to do whatever we wanted.

I think it was, in fact, the challenge that refined me, the difficult road that made me appreciate hard work, commitment, loyalty, and long-suffering, but I have come to a very different conclusion from the bumper sticker people. Legacy transfer is critical to future generations. We must pour into our children and our children’s children. Passing on ineptness is not an option. We must, as men and women of character and resolve, pass the torch, seamlessly, without interruption and without selfish resolve.

The societal disconnect from the elder patriarch to the youngest member of the group needs to be examined and passionately restored to a free-flowing, fluid interaction, passing on crucial techniques and formulas for successful and vibrant lives. Let us never hesitate to instill incremental values to those who go behind us. And to the selfish, nearsighted members: Keep your money and your bumper sticker.

Here is the conclusion: Don’t hold God hostage for what well-meaning people with bad direction have done. It is your turn to right the wrong, be the leader you wish you’d had. If you take care of the small things, the big things will automatically come.

Karl Leiber

Make plans, stick to schedules when you must, but keep your mind open to spontaneity. Don’t miss chances to do something new, unplanned, or slightly risky. Recently, I had the great opportunity to fly to Paris, but I only had two hours to make up my mind, pack up, and head to the airport. If I had pondered much on the decision, I would never have gone. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my life. Everything needn’t be perfect to enjoy it. Take a chance!

Jennifer Oberholtz

My advice to my children:

Family is family forever. We can always disagree, but do not get angry or hold a grudge. Additions to our family of our children’s spouses are family. And their families are now our family. Same rules apply.

Learn the art of listening. Being louder doesn’t mean you are more right.

Never say things that will hurt other people’s feelings. Assume someone else wasn’t thinking if they hurt your feelings. Forgive and forget.

You are never alone.  Don’t try to do anything without asking for wisdom from God.

Jeff Stager