We frequently hear and read about how wonderful common sense is. The problem is, that the concept of common sense is very ambiguous. There is no singular focus of what defines common sense. Your ideas about common sense are probably different than your neighbor’s ideas about common sense. In turn, I might envision other ideas about common sense.
Basically, common sense is the ability to use practical judgment about everyday concerns. It has been described as “the knack for seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done.” Ideally, it is the skill set to understand and behave in ways shared by nearly everybody.
Right away, there is the conundrum of understanding and behaving in ways shared by nearly all people. The esteemed psychiatrist Rolo May stated that “the opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice. It is conformity.” If you spend a little time observing people, you notice that there are plenty of people thinking and acting like everybody else without having rational reasons for doing so.
It seems like everybody has strong views about issues that do not directly affect them. This happens because influential commentators and leaders plant ideas in the minds of the public by repetition and the use of strong emotional metaphors. These notions work themselves into our subconscious minds and we become set in our ways. These opinions are distractions that cause us to lose our focus on what really matters in our lives.
If you spend much time socializing you may notice that we are unenlightened souls. Most people do not bother with deep, honest introspection. It is a truism that we all walk in the dark and each of us must learn to turn on her or his own light. No great teachers can do that for us, they can only point the way. So, if nearly everyone is clueless about what really matters, common sense would seem to be the same. If nearly everyone is unenlightened, why would I want to emulate them?
One of the biggest pitfalls we face is to follow popular opinion makers. We collectively face one national crisis after another. We align ourselves with one side or the other. Certainly it’s smart to pay attention to current events but it’s unwise to allow current events to engulf us. Nearly everyone allows circumstances to rule them, is that common sense? Isn’t life more fulfilling and happy when we take charge and live our lives from within?
So, maybe common sense is something other than what we believe it to be. It remains nebulous and undefinable. Common sense is not common because it is purely subjective. So, perhaps common sense is a misnomer.
My neighbor’s common sense may be defined by his need to stockpile several cases of canned food for dire emergencies and to drive a Ford pickup truck. My life is different from his. I do not have much room for such stockpiles and a pickup truck does not fulfill my transportation needs. At the same time, both of us believe we possess a great amount of common sense.
It seems that the words “common sense”, together, form a throwaway phrase. Common sense is a sweeping generality that has no concrete, definitive meaning.
I finally looked up the term in my Webster’s Dictionary. It is defined as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts”.
The dictionary definition leaves plenty of room for ambiguity. It implies subjectivity. I conclude that common sense is a feel-good phrase we use in order to tell ourselves that we have superior judgment.
Common sense does not really exist because circumstances differ and individuals have different points of view. We all have different rules of thumb. In my opinion, it’s better to have uncommon sense.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer Maya Angelou. “If we don’t plant the right things, we will reap the wrong things. It goes without saying. And you don’t have to be, you know, a brilliant biochemist and you don’t have to have an IQ of 150. Just common sense tells you to be kind, ninny, fool. Be kind.”