"Everybody knows that!" This is a statement that I heard my son make an one evening when we were sitting down for dinner. And the interesting thing about this is he was acting as though he was sort of annoyed that one of his brothers didn't know this thing that he thought that "everybody knows". This is something that I find we do all too often. The thing that comes to mind when I consider this social phenomenon is the problem of common sense. One way that common sense is defined is:
"Sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence."
and this conceptualization of common sense is evident throughout history and literature:
"Common sense is in spite of, not as the result of education."
"Common sense is the measure of the possible; it is composed of experience and prevision; it is calculation applied to life."
Henri Frederic Amiel
"I have great confidence in the common sense of mankind in general."
"Common sense is genius stressed and its working clothes."
But I believe George Seaton said it best when he said, "Faith is believing in something even when common sense tells you not to." We are so used to thinking of common sense as though it where a universal answer! Yet when we think it through, we recognize that an overreliance on common sense leads us to fail to recognize the value of sense that is common to people outside our own experience.
This is one of the ways that we mislead ourselves. We are so convinced that common sense is this thing that we should all share. Yet, we fail to realize what commonsense is actually based upon. Common sense is only common in so far as it is consistent with the experiences that we have had. Our common sense does not extend beyond what we've been exposed to, beyond what we, ourselves, have experienced. Therefore, common sense is not so common at all! Consider this, if I've spent my entire childhood traveling all over the world with my family, to me, common sense would suggest that many people speak different languages and have different cultures. If, on the other hand, I've spent my entire life in, say, a small town in rural America, common sense might tell me that everyone speaks the language that I speak and knows the creeks and trails that I walked throughout my childhood. Why might I think that? Because that is my experience! That is all I know! And if I talk to my neighbor, or the kid I rode to school with, or that really nice lady at church, they would all know the same things. Therefore, it might seem like "common sense", but in reality, it is not necessarily common at all. We convince ourselves that, because we live and breathe these things every day, that it is an absolute truth! But truth goes far beyond our limited experience. And like my son at the dinner table, we have an expectation that people share our common sense, and when they do not, they are somehow less-than.
That being said, let's identify this as Thinking Error #8: Our common sense is not necessarily so common.
You might wonder how I explained to my son he would do well to stop supposing that everyone shares sense that is common to him. I actually used the example that I read in a text book by David Myers. Dr. Myers suggested that you try this exercise. He said imagine that you could fold a sheet of paper in half 100 times. And he asked how thick would it be. The average sheet of notebook paper is one .1 mm thick. What would common sense tell you? Would it tell you that you should multiply .1×100? Nope. That wouldn't do it. Remember, you are continuing to fold the product in half until you've done it 100 times! Common sense would go on to tell you that it is impossible to fold a sheet of paper in half 100 times. You see? Because is it something outside our experience, we have trouble even visualizing it! The answer? Somewhere in the neighborhood of 800,000,000,000,000 times the distance between the earth and the sun! Hey some that is almost unimaginable! Which means it is beyond our common sense. So, despite the fact that Dr. Phil McGraw would tell us that "common sense needs to be more common", I encourage us to move beyond common sense. This will allow us to be open to understanding that is outside our immediate experience, knowledge that goes beyond what we've been exposed to, and insight that will enrich our lives.