On Common Sense

Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek


On Common Sense


Many people who opine about common sense probably don’t have a clear idea about what it is and what it is not.  If you can’t define it, you should probably stop making reference to it.  These days there are dozens of memes that have themes about Common Sense but too many of them directly disagree with one another. That seems to render the whole idea of assigning the topic to a graphic meme and a confused wasteland where everyone gets lost.

Needless to say, the eh, “common sense” thing to do is start with the dictionary definition and take it from there.  Right!  One anonymous and Smart Lookup definition that is literally at hand as part of this word-processing program describes common sense thusly:

Common sense is sound practical judgment concerning everyday matters, or a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge that is shared by nearly all people. The first type of common sense, good sense, can be described as "the knack for seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done." The second type is sometimes described as folk wisdom, "signifying unreflective knowledge not reliant on specialized training or deliberative thought." The two types are intertwined, as the person who has common sense is in touch with common-sense ideas, which emerge from the lived experiences of those commonsensical enough to perceive them.

A debatable point of view in lots of memes questions that if common sense is so common, why do so many people fail to show it?  If there is an answer it may be that common sense is what we the observers think it is, irrespective of what some dictionary definition says it is. One rather ponderous but unattributed dictionary definition forwarded to the Footloose Forester hits all the bases with:                           
                Common sense {kämen sens} noun
             Good sense and sound judgment in practical matters. “use your common sense”
synonyms: good sense, sense, native wit, sensibleness, judgment, levelheadedness, prudence, discernment, canniness, astuteness, shrewdness, wisdom, insight, perception, perspicacity; practicality, capability, resourcefulness, enterprise; informal horse sense, gumption, savvy, smarts, street smarts. "I had the common sense to phone an ambulance instead of yelling at him to get up."
Common sense is a noun but it is not tangible.  People claim to recognize it in its apparent presence but also claim that it does not exist when they perceive that sensibleness, judgment, levelheadedness, canniness, etc. are not part of the milieu.  My favorite is perspicacity as a descriptor.  Few people would agree with me, although it is part of an accepted dictionary definition. Thusly, if people can’t identify with the multiple and alternative definitions, the case for anybody knowing what it is will always be debatable.



Beware of people who wield big hammers and are intent on pounding common sense into others who apparently lack their preferred brand of common sense.  After all, there is a good possibility that no two people will recognize common sense in the same terms.  And you may get push-back from those who want a level playing field or perceive that you are putting them down based on their life experiences.


Finally, when the Footloose Forester once asked a female colleague what she thought was meant by common sense, she replied first with a question and then with an answer.  She asked, “Do you know how to crochet?”  When he said “no” she then said, “then you don’t have any common sense.”   You can add that to your definitions of what common sense is, as related by someone who thought they knew what it is.

Potatoes, Corn, Wheat, and Rice
Tennessee and Arevalo

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