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Common Sense Ain’t So Common August 31, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Mindfulness, People, Word Play.

We often hear people say, “That’s just common sense!” 

But what does that mean? 

What is “common sense”?

In my view, common sense is something that:

* most people could extrapolate for themselves . . .

* based upon what they already know about the world . . .

* without having to  directly experience it for themselves . . .

* as long as they’re in touch with reality and not lost in La La Land.

In other words, it’s not rocket science.

For example, I have NEVER run into a brick wall at 75 mph.  I have NEVER seen someone else run into a brick wall at 75 mph. 

But, based on other things I know about the world, I am confident in saying that running into a brick wall at 75 mph would hurt. 

A lot. 

That’s just common sense.

I wrote the first part of this post before perusing the definition of Common Sense in Wikipedia. 

Let’s look at it together:

Common sense, as described by Merriam-Webster, is defined as beliefs or propositions that most people consider prudent and of sound judgment, without reliance on esoteric knowledge or study or research, but based upon what they see as knowledge held by people “in common”.

Thus “common sense” (in this view) equates to the knowledge and experience which most people already have, or which the person using the term believes that they do or should have.

According to Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase is good sense and sound judgment in practical matters (“the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way”).  

Hmm . . . my definition is close, but probably not close enough to win a Blue Ribbon at the County Fair.

Scan of cover of Common Sense, the pamphlet. N...

Image via Wikipedia

No matter.

A few examples of common sense:  

* If we splash in puddles, we get wet.
* If we drink too much, we get drunk.
* If we eat too much, we gain weight.
* If we don’t exercise, muscles atrophy.
* If we don’t sleep enough, we’re  tired.
* If we don’t bathe, we smell bad.
* If we spend too much, we go into debt.

Are any of these statements worthy of debate, or are they just common sense?

If they are common sense, why do so many people disregard the truths they impart?

Hmm . . . maybe common sense ain’t so common.

Quotes to Ponder:

* It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education than to have education without common sense. ~ Robert Green Ingersoll

*  It is inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for any public office. ~ Henry Louis Mencken

* Le sens commun n’est pas si commun (Common sense is not so common) ~ Voltaire

* The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next. ~ Matthew Arnold

* Genius ain’t anything more than elegant common sense. ~ Josh Billings

* Nonsense is so good only because common sense is so limited. ~ George Santayana

* Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom. ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

* Common sense is in spite of, not the result of, education. ~ Victor Hugo

* Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. ~ Buddha

No rules.  Just write!


1. brainrants - August 31, 2011

I ‘liked’ this post; you need a button that says ‘like a lot.’ Cannot understate how desperately short on common sense many organizations are, even mine. Good post.

nrhatch - August 31, 2011

We would all benefit from a bit more “common sense” in the world ~ at times it seems in short supply, indeed. 🙄

2. SuziCate - August 31, 2011

Common sense seems to have gone to the wayside as many people have become dependant on looking to others for answers or someone to point blame at when they don’t use common sense.

nrhatch - August 31, 2011

That may be it, Suzi.

I know that my grandparents’s generation had tons of common sense . . . and they also accepted responsibility for their own actions (and omissions) rather than looking around for a scapegoat. 🙄

3. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide - August 31, 2011

On the other hand, you wouldn’t be feeling much after hitting that wall!

nrhatch - August 31, 2011

Good point . . . you’ve got common sense! 😉

4. timkeen40 - August 31, 2011

I saw this on a commercial, so I can’t take credit, but it is true and, even if it isn’t, I like it anyway.

Experience (or common sense) is something you get right after you need it.

Great post.


nrhatch - September 1, 2011

Our common sense does increase when we see the cause and effect between our actions (and omissions) and the results we achieve.

Thanks, Tim.

5. jannatwrites - August 31, 2011

I’ve been incorrectly identifying the problem iwth society as stupidity…it is more likely lack of common sense. Thanks for clearing it up 😉

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

If a surplus of common sense is “wisdom” . . . then a shortage of common sense probably can be viewed as “stupidity.” 😉

They aren’t synonymous . . . but they are related.

6. Pocket Perspectives - September 1, 2011

Maybe common sense also involves an understanding/acceptance of the laws of cause and effect and an ability to evaluate the probability of various outcomes/effects?…and add in a dose of willingness to forego immediate gratification in order to maximize the chances of attaining those possible positive effects. Kind of a “fancy” definition for something so basically sensible?

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

Well put! The people with the most “common sense” do tend to understand the laws of cause and effect. They understand that the results they achieve stem in large part from their actions and omissions. They also understand that happiness is not solely pursuit of hedonistic pleasures and immediate gratification of wants. Happiness is not found in reaching a destination (especially not by cutting corners) . . . it’s found in the journey . . . doing what we can with what we have where we are.

Aah . . . that’s better.

7. Booksphotographsandartwork - September 1, 2011

I saw someone do something today that was very lacking in common sense. Very scary.

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

The choices that people make can be very lacking in common sense ~ and often result in injury to themselves or others.

8. Cindy - September 1, 2011

A jolly wise post, common sense tells me it’s time for toast and avo 🙂 Sleep tight. xxx

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

I jumped into bed and slept tight for 9 hours! Almost missed water aerobics this morning, and had to forego my coffee. {{yawn}}

9. adeeyoyo - September 1, 2011

I need to start a quote book – there are really some great ones around!

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

I love quotes. I post them on SLTW both singly and in clusters. Last fall, I did a whole series “Aphorisms from Aa to Zz.” Now, I can search through them easily using a single word or phrase to find the one I’m thinking of.

10. eof737 - September 1, 2011

Common sense ain’t so common… or our planet would be better cared for and all would do the sensible thing. Many choose to turn a blind eye to logic for all kinds of reasons and the consequences for their actions invariably meets them at their door; karma exacts her toll. 🙂

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

Sense and nonsense . . . that’s us! 😉

Instant karma might encourage people to develop a bit more of the former, eh?

11. Tilly Bud - September 1, 2011

Really, it’s common sense to know about common sense. Good job you have some 🙂

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

I loved some of the quotes I found on Common Sense . . . but Voltaire’s has always been a favorite. 😀

12. andalibmarks - September 1, 2011

It’s a pity most politicians don’t have any common sense…

My mom says, ‘Common sense is a gift given to those who observe without judgement.’
Wise biddy, isn’t she?


nrhatch - September 1, 2011

Indeed, she is, Andi! The more mindful and observant we are . . . the more we see how interconnected our actions are with the end result. We tend to get out of life what we put into life.

Who we are now is a reflection of what we once wanted.

13. Team Oyeniyi - September 1, 2011

Common sense – I think we have been experiencing a bit of a drought in that regard over the last…… oh, decade?………. at all levels of society.

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

As people have embraced the idea of a “paternalistic government” that is “supposed” to look out for them and guard them against their own stupidity, people become less inclined to accept responsibility for their own actions and omissions.

I’m fat because McDonald’s food isn’t good for me . . . but the government hasn’t made it illegal . . . so I kept eating it.
I’m in debt because THEY loaned me more money than I could repay . . . and the government let them.
I’m stupid and lazy because I let other people do my thinking for me.

Life tends to be a pendulum. Hopefully, we are reaching the outer limits of “stupid and lazy” and will start swinging back in the other direction soon.

14. LittleMissVix - September 1, 2011

I like the idea of being in lala land, sounds fun! Seriously though its amazing how little common sense some people have – amsuing but annoying!

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

It’s a bit like the movie The Sixth Sense . . . “I see stupid people everywhere.” 😉

Sandra Bell Kirchman - September 1, 2011

That is too funny. Why? Because it is my husband’s favorite saying.

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

It’s a great saying. 🙄

I see them on TV, in the news, on the street, jumping off bridges, eating at buffets, hanging out at the bar for happy hours . . .

andalibmarks - September 2, 2011


I have to remember that!!

nrhatch - September 2, 2011

Tickled your funny bone chakra, eh? 😉

15. misswhiplash - September 1, 2011

Most normal people have common sense as they don’t do things that would have a adverse effect..except politicians..they have no common sense whatsoever and probably would drive head first into a wall att 75 mph.

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

Judging from your comment, Patrecia, you may have more common sense in Bulgaria than we do here in the States.

People here do things that have an adverse effect on their lives ALL THE TIME . . . and then they try to hold someone else responsibility. They spill hot coffee on themselves . . . and sue McDonald’s. They get fat . . . and sue McDonald’s. They don’t want to take their kids for Happy Meals . . . and sue McDonalds.

I’m not a bit fan of McDonald’s either. My solution . . . I don’t go to McDonald’s. Easy. Peasy. 😀

16. kateshrewsday - September 1, 2011

Lovely to see Tom Paine’s frontispiece there, Nancy. He said what everyone was thinking, in simple words that confirmed the thoughts of a whole people. He had the common touch.

nrhatch - September 1, 2011

Some few people have that knack ~ sharing thoughts with an eloquence that resonates deeply.

17. flyinggma - September 2, 2011

“If they are common sense, why do so many people disregard the truths they impart?”

My guess is that their “free will” overrides their common sense. They choose what they want to do rather than what would seem to be the obvious choice by an observer of the situation.

nrhatch - September 2, 2011

Freedom without responsibility is not without its perils. 😉

18. sarsm - September 2, 2011

My mother always chastised me as a child, that I, “May be intelligent,” but I had, “No common sense.”

I think common sense grows with general life experience.

I like the Voltaire and the Victor Hugo quotes. 🙂

nrhatch - September 2, 2011

Reminds me of the children’s book, Epaminondas ~ “you ain’t got the sense you was born with.” 😉

Some people accumulate common sense as they journey through life, each experience adding to their collective wisdom. Others, seemingly, remain clueless ’til death comes knocking.

19. Naomi - September 3, 2011

Yay for common sense! Love this quote: “The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.” ~ Matthew Arnold

nrhatch - September 3, 2011

That’s an odd quote. It appealed to me, even though I couldn’t think of any stellar examples to substantiate his claim.

Clearly the freethinking of one age brings about changes, but do those changes become “common sense” ~ e.g., civil rights, animal rights, etc.?

I kept it because I sense that common sense is fluid, not set in stone.

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