They say that with age comes wisdom, but I don’t mean the wisdom of famous old philosophers like Aristotle or Nietzsche or Bob Dylan. Rather I mean the kind of wisdom that comes from having had a lot of experience, especially if the experience has been painful. We often refer to this as common sense.
Many people believe that common sense is inherent in that is we are born with it ,but the truth is quite different. We forget that everything we know now, both the true and the untrue, we learned somewhere along the way. I believe that those who lack common sense merely have missed out on a lesson that would have taught them what they apparently do not know. There seems to be two ways of developing common sense: one is by learning from instruction or by learning from one's own experience.
Common sense is largely influenced by one’s experience in the world, but everyone’s experiences are limited and different, so the assumption that there is a baseline that rational, intelligence people share, is inaccurate; in fact, it seems impossible.
For example, many Canadians think that it is only common sense to line up or queue as we refer to it, in a first come first serve order, to purchase something. However, that is not the ways that some cultures view it. I had a University student one time, from Eastern Europe, who told me that she loved Canada but we were such sheep because we lined up for everything and it was clear by the tone of her voice that she thought this a remarkable personality deficit.
I remember being in Shanghai at the airport waiting for the line to form to book our flight. No line. No lines formed and it took me awhile to realize that if I wanted service and if I ever wanted to get out of China, I had to barge through with my suitcases and claim a spot in the front. This was so UN-Canadian. What to do? I finally decided on a strategy. Gathering all my suitcases I bravely marched forward loudly proclaiming “Out of the way. I'm an American.”
If common sense, then, is held by an individual and not held in common by the entire group, what have the great writers said about common sense and what it means?
Voltaire commented that common sense is not so common. Larry Niven had a dual observation on what common sense tells us:
1a) Never throw shit at an armed man.
1b) Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.”
René Descartes was a touch more cynical. “Common sense is the best distributed commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it.” But I think that Samuel Taylor Coleridge had it right when he wrote: “Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.” You see, as we age, and have more experiences, we become wiser and our cup of common sense floweth over.
Submitted by Pat Pitsel