Common Sense and Wisdom

October 1st, 2013

common sense
I was listening to a comedian recently and as is so often the case, humor cuts to the heart of common situations and uncommon sense. Why do we automatically put our seat belts on when we’re driving, but hardly ever when we’re in a taxi? When I’m driving my kids around, I won’t start driving until they’re all safely buckled in. But then I put them in a taxi, at the mercy of someone I’ve never seen before, in an overused car with an unknown service record, and no seatbelts?!!?!?

It makes no sense. So much of what we do makes so little sense that we have to laugh. The philosopher William James said,

Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.

Common sense is like deodorant- those who need it most don’t have any. Common sense seems so uncommon these days that you have to wonder if it’s gone extinct.

RIP common sense, preceded in death by its parents, free thought and wisdom, and its children, responsibility, integrity and reason. Survived by step children, “I have my rights!” “Somebody do something!” and “Tell me what to think!”

Hardly anyone attended the funeral; common sense seems to have passed without much notice.

What is common sense?

When we talk about common sense, we usually mean something along the lines of ordinary, down to earth wisdom, street smarts, practical, and self evident knowledge.

Common sense usually demands no proof; it flies under the radar of evidence. How do you know it’s better to think before you speak or look before you leap? It’s just common sense! But then again, sometimes it’s better to speak your mind without over thinking it. Sometimes it’s better to leap before you look. Common sense is not absolute truth.

In this series on common sense, there are two parts.

Common and Sense. I’m going to tackle the sense part of it first, and then come back to the common part of it in the next article.

The Problem with Common Sense

  1. Stuck In An Old Paradigm

What phrase often accompanies common sense? Old fashioned! Good, plain, ole fashioned, common sense. The problem is that common sense is always changing. It takes a lot of common sense to keep up with the changes, Before the internet, it was common sense marketing to start your company name with A, or even better AAA to make sure you stay at the start of alphabetical listings. But since the advent of the internet, who looks at phone books? Common sense now is to snag a memorable URL as a company name. This too will one day change.

In the past common sense said that bigger is better in business. But the current paradigm says that lean is better. Craigslist is a multimillion dollar company with something like 30 employees. Mean and lean efficiency is the order of the day; working smarter not harder (another big shift) This too will change over time.

Maybe the only lasting common sense is that nothing lasts, including common sense. So its common sense to change and move with the times. Maybe the times dictate the current common sense.

  1. Common Sets the Bar Too Low

I don’t know about you, but I’m more inspired by higher wisdom, than I am by common sense. Common sense too often feels like group think, toeing the line, leaving your brain behind.

Wisdom is by nature surprising. It challenges you to upgrade your perspective, challenge the common (status quo). It asks you to go deeper, question further. The realization may prove to be shockingly simple (and once you see it, you can’t believe you missed it for so long) but this is anything but common.

Wisdom is usually counter intuitive, like this gem from Richard Rohr,

Pain teaches a most counter intuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is.

We can add to that as well; you sometimes have to let go to gain, sometimes you shrink in order to expand, surrender is sometimes the greatest power, not helping is sometimes the best form of helping etc etc

The challenge here is that sense is usually counter intuitive before it arrives at common.By the time, we’ve caught up to common sense, its moved on. It keeps surprising us.

Wisdom is the highest sense, and it comes in so many guises, some common and some surprising.

Common sense is just one of wisdom’s messengers. The Buddha said, “we should test everything against our own reason and common sense.” This includes the current common sense. And if the current common sense feels all wrong to you, then you have a higher calling to wisdom that is often counter intuitive, counter cultural, and stubbornly free to change and question and stay open.

Bottom line is that wisdom makes the most sense. Trust your highest sense, your wisdom, and look for reflections of that wisdom in all sorts of places.

In part two, I look at putting the common back in sense.

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  1. [...] is part two in a series on common sense. Part one is about the relationship between common sense and personal [...]

  2. You might enjoy reading my novel because of your article on common sense. I agree that smart is not always wise.As a Lily Among Thorns – A Story of King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, and the Goddess of Wisdom by Rudy  U Martnka is available as an Ebook for $2.99.Writings of wisdom has been recorded for over 5000 years and history continues to  record foolish actions, yet  todays schools teach every subject under the sun to children except wisdom and common sense.