While one may complain about common sense being uncommon (For the ignorant, this is a saying by Voltaire!) Well, everyone I have known or presently know has uttered something about common sense in atleast one of their conversations with me. Needless to say, I commonly use the term ‘common sense’ in my daily interaction with my spouse (mainly). Casually glancing through the entry ‘common sense’ in Key Concepts in Social and Cultural Anthropology by Nigel Rapportand Joanna Overing, I discovered that common sense is not something that is done in an impulse. For example, if someone picks up the paper lying on the floor and throws the same into a dustbin then she is not acting with an impulse to keep the surrounding clean and tidy; rather the individual is responding to the situation through a certain conditioning that has been processed within her. Blame it on the genes! To a causal onlooker it might seem that the individual is responding to A particular situation of filth and that common sense is used to clean that filth. No. The person has been conditioned and moulded by her social and cultural setup. Did I get your attention? Well, of course, I just did. So, if a person just passed by the same paper without even giving a second look and acting as if that’s pretty normal, then he is acting the way his social conditions force him to.
It is interesting to connect an individual’s social and cultural setup to commonsense. If Indians talk loudly and gesticulate a lot, blame it on their cultural setup. How can someone from the east behave like one from the west? Next time you want to utter the sentence, “ Doesn't she have any common sense?” you are actually referring to the entire genealogy of a person – father, mother, grandfather, cousin, et al. This baffled me as I always assumed that common sense is an impulse that arises when there is a particular situation. The book also says how contexts many vary but there are certain things that are common to all cultures – certain ethics and codes of conduct. But when I say culture, I am also aware that in India there are many cultures which criss-cross the country but inspite of the diversity, when one steps outside the country one has to go by the tag 'Indian' which is a very cumbersome responsibility to bear. My friend Charan has recently written a post on that Indianism or Indianisms rather which you can read here.
The background for common sense is developed and created right for the time one is a baby. Everyday significantly adds up the existing sets of constructs and actions. While examples of common sense appear quite natural and new, it is nevertheless an amalgamation of the lived, observed and unconscious experience of the mind.
Well, did you say that she doesn't have the common sense to switch off the lights when she leaves a room – blame her cultural background!
Image 1: Internet
Image 2: Internet