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Does Common Sense Exist?

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.

Let’s dive into this definition…

Is sense really common?

The above definition implies that the average person should just know how to act in specific situations, but the problem with that is we are all different. You and I weren’t raised the same, didn’t learn the same things, didn’t have the same experiences, don’t live by the same rules—so what may seem to be common sense to me could be new information for you and vice versa. Wait, what?!

Here’s my theory… If sense were common, then we wouldn’t see road rage, violence, greed, and poor manners. No one would fall out, breakup, or argue over how to parent or teach children. We’d all agree on the fundamentals in life.

But we don’t.

Different experience = Different sense

Through my work, I’ve learned that sense and awareness is not common for people. Our experiences impact what we learn and how we perceive what happens around us and because we all experience different circumstances, we learn different lessons. There’s nothing common about it.

For example, my parents raised me to believe that mistakes are opportunities—an essential part of learning and growth. This is now common sense to me, but when I present this idea to someone who was raised to believe mistakes should be avoided, it’s new for them. They’ve learned the opposite.

When our version of sense differs, whose opinion is common?  None.

Does this sound familiar? Someone acts in a way that surprises you and your instant reaction is: Well, it’s common sense.

But what if it’s not?

I remember one day we had guests over. After greeting them at the door, I expected they would take off their shoes. Instead, they walked around inside with their shoes on.

And here’s where sense isn’t common…at my house, we remove our shoes at the door…at their house, that isn’t the expectation.

What if it’s not about common sense but rather expectation?

When your expectations aren’t communicated, others won’t know what you want. How would my guests know to remove their shoes if they normally don’t? In this case, I should have politely asked them to leave their shoes at the door. Then they would know my expectations instead of me relying on common sense.

It’s too easy to jump to the assumption that someone should know better because it’s common sense.

The more helpful reaction is to identify what your expectation is and politely communicate it to other people. By being clear about expectations you can save yourself and others from unnecessary disappointment.

Until next time…

Sara Westbrook
Sara Westbrookhttps://www.3eemotionaldevelopment.com/
Hi, I'm Sara Westbrook, professional speaker, author, and creator of 3E Emotional Development. I have spent the last 15 years researching and presenting on the subject of emotions and the impact they have on choices and well-being. I have had the pleasure of presenting my energetic, interactive, and meaningful presentations/workshops to over 500,000 people, and have been on many Canadian media outlets including Global, CTV, and Sirius XM. I am the author of The UPower Journal 2.0 – an interactive journal designed to build resilience and boost confidence in youth. Here’s some behind the scenes about me… Before I was a full-time speaker I was an award-winning singer/songwriter. When I’m not presenting or writing, I can be found in my kitchen whipping up yummy, healthy treats for my husband George and son Kai. At the end of a long day, I love relaxing with George, talking about our day.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for writing this one Sara! I have a phrase I like to say, “People are complex beings made up of different experiences, driven by their brains’ generalizations, and trying to prosper in a sometimes-senseless world.”

    We are all so different, it’s no wonder common sense isn’t common. As a 36 year old, I’ve recently learned some pretty big lessons that should have been common sense – how to trust and love myself being the main one. Another one is how to have boundaries. Who knew??

    Thanks for your insight – I loved reading your piece.

  2. For psychology, common sense is the capacity for discernment that each person possesses (or should possess). Thanks to this ability, coherent decisions based on logic and reason can (should) be made. Its sliding towards common sense, now understood more and more often as generic “feeling, opinion of the majority” is a semantically and culturally dangerous drift, which risks losing an important difference, because common sense understood as a moderate, balanced use of reason ( concept that always seeks one and only purpose: the common good) unfortunately does not coincide with common sense.
    However, common sense arises not only from what others teach us or dictate to us, but also comes from our experience, from what we have seen, heard and experienced. Therefore, it is clear that each of us has traveled paths and experienced events that do not always resemble those of others. So our common sense, what is most logical for us, may not be for others.
    Common sense, therefore, is not always well calibrated, it could also be outdated or not suited to our personal needs. Let’s also use it with a certain critical judgment, also trying to understand that that of others can lead to conclusions different from ours, for the simple fact that it tells or considers the situation from another point of view.

  3. Sara, an enlightening article. As it happens I use the phrase ‘common sense’ a lot. Perhaps because it seems to be eroding in a way that many aspects of ‘polite society’ are eroding. It also depends to an extent on upbringing. Our neighbors always take their shoes off without being asked, and we do the same. When I was at boarding prep school in the 1950s, we had ‘house shoes’. Sound extreme, but good sense. ‘Common’ as in a ‘book of common prayer’ means ‘universal’, for all, no exclusions. There is an assumption that everyone synergizes with the phrase ‘common sense’. I think I mostly use it in relation to local authorities where (and I am not alone) would say, ‘why don’t they use commons sense. It is common sense not to drink coffee when it is too hot. Common sense to take a bottle of water when on a long walk. I agree with you entirely where some individuals may not have been raised from childhood to observe the ‘rules’ of commons sense, and as you say, politely convey expectation is a non-inflammatory manner thus avoiding the risk of sounding arrogant. The phrase ‘you’d think it were common sense……’ is heard often.

    A really super article Susan.

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