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Do you lack common sense? (Hint: yes, you do)

"Just use your common sense." We often hear these words or even use them on others. But have you wondered what makes up "common sense"?


Taking the term literally, I would interpret it as a way of thinking (sense) that is generally accepted by the mass (common). Interestingly, do you know that there is actually a definition for common sense by law?


According to law-dictionary.org, "when a person possesses those perceptions, associations and judgments, in relation to persons and things, which agree with those of the generality of mankind, he is said to possess common sense. On the contrary, when a particular individual differs from the generality of persons in these respects, he is said not to have common sense, or not to be in his senses. 1 Chit. Med. Jur. 334."


Do you see an issue here? Common sense seems to be defined by the "generality of mankind" and this is where matters become grey. We can see how this is heavily influenced by the culture, knowledge and values of the community. For us now, it is common sense that Earth is not the centre of the universe and is very much a globe thanks to visual evidence by satellite images. However, for people of the past (or those still living in the past — sorry, flat-earthers), it is common sense that the Earth is the centre since, from our daily observation, the Sun and Moon seem to rotate around us while flat-earthers often cite the horizon as a justification for their theory.


This is why (the lack of) knowledge plays a major role in determining what is considered common sense. As an educator, I would often share with my students that this is the very reason why we would have to make the learning of different subjects compulsory, even if the majority would not be applicable/relevant directly in the future. By learning about science, we learn about essential knowledge but more importantly, the essence of logic. Learning about history help future generations understand what has happened in the past but more importantly, allow better appreciation of the mindset and cultural beliefs/practices of the earlier generations.


Going back to the main question, it is no surprise that we would often lack some form of common sense since it is such a tentative and subjective construct that is highly dependant on the person who has used the term. If we are in a more privileged position where we have more access to education, we should be more empathetic and, at the same time, open-minded about how others might have formulated their assumptions of common sense based on their experiences (which might actually provide us invaluable insights and inspirations). Personally, what I think would be the best way forward is just to disregard this whole construct of common sense and interact with others as individuals, each with their unique set of experiences and opinions.



What?! You mean common sense is not as common as it sounds?

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