I explore the concept of common sense and realize that the idea is more complicated than you would recognize.
Roommate in Junior Year of College
My roommate in my junior year of college yelled at me and said that I should use common sense. The context of our argument was that I should have asked permission before I peeked in her “room.” Her room was the living room separated by a thin curtain from the rest of the space. I needed to ask her if it was okay if I was able to play music as I cooked. The insult irritated me because I didn’t understand how that was common sense if we never spoke about communication expectations. This comment has stayed with me since and has made me wonder, “What exactly is common sense?”
According to Wikipedia, commonsense is the essential ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by, i.e., “common to,” nearly all people, and can reasonably be expected of almost all people without any need for debate.
There are Some examples of common sense.
- Taking an umbrella when the forecast says it’s going to rain,
- using sturdy shoes when hiking
- buying things within our budget
Those are things that hopefully people inherently know from either experience, observation, or education. But is common sense correct and common?
Jim Taylor’s Post
In a blog post by Jim Taylor, an adjunct professor at my alma mater University of San Francisco, he writes that “Common sense is neither common nor sense.” Common Sense is not common because many people would do a multitude of things that are not good for them such as smoking cigarettes, eating junk food, or gambling. It should be practical to avoid these things because they are harmful, yet people do them anyway. Also, he adds that common sense isn’t real sense if people define sense by sound judgment. Sound judgment is to assess situations or circumstances to draw sound conclusions objectively. Much of common sense relies on experience alone, and most personal experiences have definite limitations.
Common Sense is Not as Common as People Think
I agree with Taylor that “common sense” is not as common as people think. From personal experience, I’ve committed crimes against this idea such as drinking and driving though I knew the dangers, telling someone my whole day when they were expecting a one-word answer and walking home alone at two in the morning when I was drunk. I’ve also observed a lack of insight when I see people spend money beyond their means, overeat even though they have diabetes, and not pay loans even though the loan officer is breathing down their neck.
Common Sense is Not Necessarily Sound Judgement
Also, I also agree that common sense is not necessarily sound judgment. Upbringing, cultural norms, and experience affect common sense. Take for example when my roommate screamed at me for not having common sense for not declaring my presence before I peeked inside her “room” to ask permission if I could play music.
In my perspective, I felt I didn’t need to declare my presence because, in my upbringing, when people share a living space, they don’t have to announce their presence. I guess that from her childhood, even when people share a living area, they should ask permission to enter personal spaces. Another example is that common sense is affected by culture. In the Philippines, it’s common sense to take a roll of toilet paper when you go to the bathroom because there is none. In the United States, most bathrooms have toilet paper, so there is no need to carry one of your own.
Misused and Misunderstood
There are a misuse and misunderstanding of common sense. When people insult each other by saying they don’t have common sense, underneath I believe they’re mad because they didn’t understand each others’ expectations as a result of a lack of communication or misunderstanding.
Common Sense is not Universal
I want to think common sense is universal, but it’s not. What’s common sense to one person is not common sense to another. Instead of calling out the person for their lack of common sense, which often implies he or she is a blockhead, gently explain it to the person, which is useful and not hurtful.