Recovering The SelfA Journal of Hope and Healing


Rules For Life – Common Sense is not Cowardice

by Ken La Salle

Welcome back to my continuing series of Rules For Life.journey in art

As part of my preparation for returning to the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017, I’ve already begun hiking about as much as I can. Just yesterday morning, I found myself hiking through the dry bed of the Santiago Creek, on the eastern edge of Orange County, California, where I live. The creek’s bed connects two regional parks—Santiago Oaks and Irvine—and it was somewhere between these parks where I ran into another hiker on the trail.

He told me he had just seen a mountain lion crossing the trail. Mountain lions are serious business in southern California, where we normally find ourselves more concerned with predators of the human variety. But when someone tells you they’ve seen a mountain lion, it’s time to pay attention.

The fact that this guy was a seasoned hiker made his report even more compelling.

At this point, I had a few choices:

  • Ignore his warning and continue on with the risk of becoming lunch;
  • Return back to Santiago Oaks Park and call for a pickup; or
  • Change over to a less remote and overgrown trail with more traffic and pay close attention to what I was doing as I proceeded to Irvine Park.

I opted for the third choice. I know mountain lions are a real threat to be taken seriously but I felt that giving up on my hike was an over-reaction. Like so many of us, mountain lions are looking for easy prey. They want to catch you alone and unaware. A crowded trail and good visibility help avoid that.

The new trail did mean a shorter hike and, though that was disappointing, it was less disappointing than being digested. My only real concern was whether my choice was based in cowardice or common sense. Was my change in plans little more than chickening out?

As I reflected on this question, I realized it was not unique to me. We all face that question at times, though it isn’t always in the face of a mountain lion. Sales people exert pressure to make you decide without a chance to think. Our peers sometimes try to talk us into things that might not be in our best interest. Even our loved ones, with our best interests in their heart, sometimes try to push us out of our comfort zone and over a ledge; hopefully a metaphoric one.

But when we are faced with this type of dilemma, I think it’s useful to remember that there’s nothing wrong with trusting your gut, using your common sense. Common sense is not the same as cowardice.

As I changed to the wider trail, I still had to navigate a few overgrown sections, where each rustle in the undergrowth or snap of a twig sounded to me more like a hungry mountain lion than anything else. Now, I know mountain lions don’t like it when you make noise and I could feel my spirits slipping. So, I decided to cheer myself up by improvising a little song.

Mountain Lion! Mountain Lion!

Mountain Lion! Mountain Lion!

Mountain lion – mountain lion – don’t chew off my face!

I tend to use that on a daily basis!

Every fear I had, I sang out to scare off any lion that might be about. Sure, it felt silly, but using silliness in the face of danger was exactly what boosted my spirits. And I finished the hike without a mountain lion in sight. Using my common sense, along with the facts I knew about mountain lions, shredded my plans and changed my hike in unexpected ways but it wasn’t cowardice. It was intelligence.

And this is the rule we should keep in mind this month. Cowardice is an impulsive response. Common sense is thoughtful and requires us to use our brains. Don’t believe anyone who tells you they’re the same thing.

Because that just might be a mountain lion!

About the Author

Author and Playwright, Ken La Salle grew up in Santa Ana, California and has remained in the surrounding area his entire life. He was raised with strong, blue-collar roots, which have given him a progressive and environmentalist view. As a result, you’ll find many of his stories touching those areas both geographically and philosophically. His plays have been seen in theaters across the country and you can find a growing number of books available online. Find out more about Ken on his website at

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