May 13, 2010
The False Promise of Common Sense

Most everyone values common sense, don’t they?

It takes a lot of different forms, but typical Western-culture common sense seems to value self-protection of various kinds: carry an umbrella on a rainy day; only buy what you can afford; don’t walk barefoot where a glass has just shattered; don’t eat green furry things from the back of the fridge; look both ways before crossing; don’t quit your day job. No doubt you have a few favorites of your own.

But is common sense really a good thing? Is it necessary?

If you unswervingly follow common sense, life is relatively safe and predictable. You stay dry in the rain. You avoid illness and injury. Your finances are stable and secure.

If you flout common sense, though, what happens? Life becomes less predictable. You create opportunities for things to change. You receive chances to learn and grow. New perspectives open to you. Ducking into a doorway in a rainstorm might give you a different view on the street or allow you to make the acquaintance of another umbrella-less outlier. Quitting your job to make a go at something you love is full of adventure as you work and play at creating success. Splurging on luxuries when you can’t afford them teaches you about what you really value - other people’s good opinion trumps food; traveling the world trumps good credit.

The immediate results of ignoring common sense are sometimes bad: food poisoning from those furry green leftovers is unpleasant; stepping on glass is painful; being hit by a car more so. But maybe in the hours and days you spend recovering your health, you find the time to uncover a new understanding or explore some ideas that your busy life hasn’t give you time to settle into.

I think there are times when common sense is a wise thing. And tossing it out the window to follow your heart (or just going with the flow of a forgotten umbrella) seems much more valuable in the long run.

So next time someone says, “You have no common sense,” you might want to cheer a little.

(Thanks to my dinner companions last night for getting me thinking about this.)

Posted by kuri at May 13, 2010 09:47 AM


Im fighting a common sense battle here in Oz, where what seem like common sense decisions on a local level are disasters on an organisational level. A recent example of this is the op shop staff telling a homeless guy that he can sleep out the back of the shop for a while. The fact that they could have referred him to one of the offices for emergency assistance and housing referral seems to be a bit beyond them. From their viewpoint, they are at the coal face whereas the offices are all distant and impersonal. I cant seem to get them to understand that my/our department is the only one that DOESN’T deal with clients, and even managers in other departments do deal with clients.

I have learned not to trust ideas about “common sense”. It is entirely contextual, value-based, culturally influenced and very much subject to an individual’s world view, intelligence and problem-solving skills. Nothing common about it whatsoever.

Posted by: j-ster on May 13, 2010 05:32 PM

Like your post on common sense. My old mentor used to tell me that there is no such thing. :D i.e., what’s common sense to you isn’t to me. Chew on that.

Also, I’ve lived a lot of my life doing things NOT based on common sense. In my old age, now, I think I’d like life to be a little less exciting. haha Frankly, sometimes I wonder that I managed to stay alive this long.

Ta. Have a lovely day. :)

Posted by: Chris on May 18, 2010 10:14 AM
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