Wednesday 6 February 2013

The uncommon truth about common sense!

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


  1. i would blame nurture more than nature for lapses in common err is human/to recover is training...something they drilled into me at college

  2. ithuvay Suntv ilaati pothigaila vara programa iruntha - intha postil "common sense" engira vaarthai ethanai murai vanthullathunu kadnupudichi udanay keezh kanda ennnnuku fone seiyavum nu competition vachirupanga :D:D

  3. Interesting! I never thought of common sense that way!

  4. I suppose some common sense must be tied into cultural rearing, but some must be more tied in to instinct like running from a bear, dodging a moving car, eating the most chocolate you can eat at one sitting. Just kidding. You always come up with the most interesting topics. You have lots of common sense.

  5. I agree that a lot of our behavior comes from nurture not necessarily genes I would say. But I wouldn't say it is common sense that a person is lacking if he/she does not pick up a plastic cover. It is lack of civic sense :). Common sense would be moving away from a car coming dangerously in your direction. If you don't do that, you are plain dumb :). Good topic, Susan. Of course, common sense is not so common.

  6. Ingenuity! is the hallmark of the one writing this.
    Susan you are gifted. Can't wait for you to become a full fledged writer.
    As for common sense i had seen a poster once. The vendor on the pavement had it right on the top.
    It said something like " Common Sense is like a deodorant. The people who need it most never use it".
    Yeah and commonly when people don't use common sense it feels easy to put the blame on all that you have just mentioned. Culture,upbringing...etc
    i have also experienced people not using common sense because of sheer laziness. Can u believe this??
    And thanks Susannah for stopping by. Hope you could participate on all five but that's too much to ask.
    Thanks again for responding to my silent call.

  7. Most interesting, Susan. I guess we do imbibe a lot from the environment we are raised in. What we might take for granted and call 'common' sense, might not be common at all in someone else's experience.

  8. Sometimes I see so little common sense (in myself, also!) that I think it is an attribute which
    cannot be learned
    cannot be earned.

    It might somehow be inherited.
    But, in any case, it is simply a gift from the Holy Spirit, as is also discernment (similar to common sense?)

    You present your thoughts in such orderly fashion, Susan Deborah--that I believe you must be greatly endowed with those gifts of which we write.

    Love to read your research, knowledge, always educational!

  9. That is an interesting take on common sense Susan. Util now I understood common sense as inherently common to all of us but in the rush to sort out the issue/thing we forget to access it. However, as you have shared here, one's conditioning could be another reason for us not using it... This post has given me an altogether new perspective on common sense! well written as always :)

  10. There is nothing common about common sense. Some people, or most people seem to lack having a common sense.

    But you did a research on this? Wonderful :-)




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