Sunday Morning Sermon July 28 2013
Smart people do not always do things in a smart way. There are moments when smart people do confusingly irrational things like gambling away all their money on the stock market, or forgetting to take adequate clothing for an upcountry hike at Horton Plains in the middle of January.
Whatever our background, training, Intellectual Quotient, or experience, common sense can be learned and applied in everyday situations. And while it may seem provocative suggesting that smart people don't use common sense, this deliberate association is merely to highlight that everyone has lapses in common sense. The more we're trained to think one way (by our workplace, family, culture, etc.), the greater the chance that sometimes we allow sloppy or auto-pilot thinking to take the place of common sense. Common sense isn't a one-stop-destination; it's a way of thinking that needs constant nourishing and application.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, common sense is about exercising "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or available facts". This definition suggests that common sense depends on not over-complicating the situation (simple), applying experience and general knowledge to the situation (sound and prudent judgment), and implicit in this is self-trust that our considered experience is valid for future situations.
Common sense can also serve the purpose of removing us from being hidebound to rules, theories, ideas, and guidelines that would hamper or stifle the best decision in a particular situation. In other words, just because something says so, or just because it has always been done that way, is not a reason to abandon common sense about present needs and changed circumstances.
We are all human; we are fallible. And our brains work in certain ways as a means of providing shortcuts to ensure survival in a world where being chased by predators could end our life. In a modern world where caves and saber toothed tigers are no longer a constant companion, some of that reactive, split second judging can land us in hot water as we react instead of reflecting, assume instead of teasing apart the realities, and follow habit instead of challenging its continued utility. Some of the things our amazing mind is capable of doing to override common sense include:
- Maintaining our own sense of reality out of proportion with identifiable reality. "Not seeing the big picture"
- Reflex or associative thinking. "Reactive thinking that is totally based on brain washing through time"
- Invoking absolute certainty. "Getting rid of doubt"
- Bullheadedness. "Unwillingness to be wrong"
Common Sense Thinking isn't an invitation to insanity. Its only an opportunity to consider that our sense of reality isn't really real. What we see is what we've programmed our brains to perceive. Once we start sliding down the slippery slope of self-confirmation that reality is only ever what we see it as, the we open up to the possibilities of bigotry, selfishness, intolerance, and prejudice because we constantly seek to make everyone and everything else conform to our standard of reality, and our standard of "what's right". By divorcing ourselves from this one-sided reality, and learning as much as we can about how other people perceive the world and our place in it, we begin to make room for common sense to grow because our sense is built on "common" experiences, not just our personal ones.
There are several things in life that every human being should know how to do and not leave to another person, things that go to the heart of personal survival, self-knowledge, and long-term health and safety. In this way, we can learn common sense through practical knowledge and application, informing us accurately when times are harder or when we must react quickly.
Some of them are, cooking, putting food on the table, growing food, nutrition information, respecting people and the environment, budgeting expenses, understanding personal limitations, analyzing situations logically, fixing utility problems that spring up at home, planning, multitasking, connecting with people, safety first, and being resourceful.
At the end of the end of the day what matters most to any individual is to trust oneself to take the right common sense steps in life.