What is common sense? Properly defined, common sense is a common thought or belief used within a group that holds similar or common beliefs and values. It’s actually a good way of identifying groups that gather and unite to express a common front. However, many people use the term “common sense” in a derogatory manner in which the exclamatory person is expressing their own perspectives regardless of others’ emotional competence, cognitive understandings, cultural values or social structure. The expectation that we globally share the same perspectives is erroneous.

When using this statement, people are making the assumption that there is a universal commonality or understanding of their own perspective, which is very often not the case and often leads to a lot of confusion and frustration. The way we see things as individuals can vary on so many aspects.

To use “common sense”, we would have to be surrounded with people who:

  • Have access to the same emotional range as us
  • Do things with the same understanding and habits
  • Have the same cultural beliefs and values
  • Share a similar social structure and system.

“Common sense” is very useful when a person or group is trying to define a very restricted identity on all fronts; emotional, relational, cognitive and environmental. For example, people who want to define and express their beliefs, like Greenpeace, will have a use for “common sense” to group, unite, define and propel their beliefs into the world. We have to be aware that, as a group, this identifies but a select group of people, not the entirety of civilization. That is why people who travel a lot and experience different cultures and civilizations tend not to use the term “common sense” because they understand that it never really applies.

Moreover, we have to consider that “common sense” is forever shifting on an individual basis. As people’s perspectives, emotions, relations, cognitive abilities and belief systems shift, so does their definition of “common sense”. That is why we see many people shift and move between groups, organizations, social identities and belief systems.

When expressing our own perspectives to others, we should use the term “common understanding”, which implies an understanding between two or more people. There is a verbal exchange of ideas and perspectives to reach a “common understanding”. This exchange and understanding are absent from “common sense”.

Maybe universal “common sense” is something to strive for. Would this not also mean that we have achieved or defined a universal truth? I believe it’s a very noble objective, but for now, we are quite far from achieving such a state. So, for the time being, be aware of the use you’re making of “common sense”. It may not be as “common” as you think…

marc-andré langlais

Marc-André is an Agile coach at Epicoaching, member of Pyxis network. He helps build self-organizing teams who evolve in a stimulating and relational environment. Contact him to find out how he can contribute to the success of your teams.

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