Common sense is not so common.

Common sense is not so common. – Voltaire

Cheese? Consumed! Now, time to head home... oh, wait.

What does that mean?
Well, the meaning seems pretty clear. The stuff we call “common sense” seems to be pretty rare these days. But “these days” for Voltaire was in the mid 1700’s, over 250 years ago! And it’s still a problem.

Why is common sense important?
What we call “common sense” is a core of knowledge and wisdom that we have and think others should have as well. And while there is some agreement on a portion of what constitutes “common sense”, there are many variations on the theme.

Different groups of people have different specializations. On a farm, it might be common sense not to walk right behind a horse. In the city, it might be common sense not to walk into a certain neighborhood. One of the problems with common sense is the lack of commonality of experience. What constitutes common sense can also vary from region to region or vary in different social groups.

Another problem with the “common” is how society changes. The learning experiences of a child change as the attitudes of the society change. In Voltaire’s day, society was changing rapidly. Today, a lot of kids are not getting the kind of tutoring by parents that used to be considered fairly normal. These changes leave gaps in knowledge and wisdom in the upcoming generation, and this can lead to spectacular occurrences of “common sense” failure.

Despite all these differences, common sense exists as a label of what a particular group of people value as a fundamental set of facts and experiences. Together, these form a sort of social contract. It provides guidelines so that all the people have a similar idea about what should and should not be done, and it helps to bind them together.

Where can I apply this in my life?
The thing we call common sense has been shown to be lacking in some form for over 250 years. I don’t know that we will be able to change it that much in our lifetimes. What we can change is our lives and how we act. We can try to be an example and try to mentor others. We can try to help those about to experience, first hand, a common sense failure.

To best be able to help others with this, we should work on our empathy, sympathy and tact. The first two will help get us moving when we see an opportunity to help someone, and the third will be useful in actually accomplishing the task.

For empathy, I try to remember when I was in a similar situation, and how it felt. If I was never in the same situation, I try to imagine how bad it feels (or would feel, if I managed to get there before they fail).

For sympathy, I try to feel sorry for the person and the situation they are in (or about to get into). I try to be sympathetic to their pain and embarrassment (real or future). Between these two, I can “feel their pain” (or anticipate it), and prepare to help them as best I can.

For tact, well, I’m still working on that. I try to ask them if they need some help, and if they know what is going to happen next if they continue doing what they are doing. I offer my help and advice, and hope they can get something out of it. Sometimes I meet a receptive person, and it can lead to some interesting discussions. Other people insist on learning things first hand.

To help ourselves with this, I have found that the biggest failure I have is the failure to think things through. Kind of like a mouse who suddenly notices that they are trapped in a cage, I tend to go straight for the cheese, only to find that I’m trapped. I have been trying to not focus so closely on the task at hand, and I try to keep a broad view of the situation. If you can see it before it’s too late, “common sense” wins, right?

From: Twitter, @GreatestQuotes
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/v/voltaire106180.html
Photo by Brian Arrr

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