Zen 101

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Common Sense, Part One

Common Sense, Part One

The phrase “Common Sense” has always bothered me. While seemingly innocuous, the phrase is often used to put intellectuals and academics in their place, meaning, knocking them off their high horse. Since I am both an intellectual and former academic I take issue with that usage.  

The most commonly understood definition of common sense is as follows: “…a basic ability, to perceive, understand, and judge things that are shared by (common to) nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without the need for debate.”  We might say common sense, then, is derived from what might be called common knowledge.  Therein lay the rub. Consider this:  common knowledge is clearly not common, nor necessarily shared by “all people.”  In any given society there will be subcultures, differing religious and political groups, seriously differing experiences, all of which color what each may considerer “common knowledge” and thus the phrase “common sense” may not indeed, be common or sensical.

Establishing the fallacy of common sense, then, leads to several questions.   What do people who use the phrase mean by it? Could it be simply a means of leveling the playing field in a discussion?  Or even establishing in the user a sense of superiority over another? Why use the phrase at all? 

From my experience, when the phrase is used it is usually met by laughter, suggesting it may be used to put someone down through dismissal.  So, when we might say, “So and so has no common sense!”  What do we mean? Partly, I believe we are saying the person doesn’t understand us or, more precisely, think like us. And we would be correct, but so? If we were a society that thought all alike (I don’t know about you) but I would be thoroughly bored, but more, would fail to learn anything.  It is through challenges to our belief systems that we grow and evolve as sentient beings.  


Secondly, I believe saying such things stops dialogue, if not conversation itself.  We may feels as though we have gained an advantage, but instead we have lost it.  Debate, conversation, discussion, and now in the forefront, “dialogue,” is always needed, especially if we are true believers.  Cracks in the paradigm are critical:  hammer on!

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