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Common Sense


When I was a teenager my father often said that I had "no common sense". This complaint frustrated me because he couldn't define just what common sense was. I was an intellectual idealist and needed things spelled out, which probably was a big part of the problem.

Nevertheless now I am a father and a grandfather and I find myself making the same exclamations about the lack of common sense in the younger generation. We could assume that common comes with age; yet, there are some people who never learn, and there are young people who seem to have a lot of it. So what is it?

Wisdom

It's a bit like a sense of responsibility mixed with wisdom. It's the ability to make the right decisions at the right times; so that when given a responsibility, your superiors can know you will do a good job of carrying it out.

Flexibility

The legalist (and this is why intellectuals often have problems with it) wants a rule for everything, and often lacks the common sense to recognise when a rule should be changed to suit circumstances. To have common sense, you need to understand why you are doing what you are doing, and be constantly asking yourself whether you are using the best approach or whether there could be a better one.

Idealists can become obsessed with one ideal to the exclusion of another. You may, for example, be so concerned with economising that you cut out an expense which would save you money in the long run. It's where we get the phrase "penny wise and pound foolish".

Foresight

A person with common sense learns to anticipate problems and be ready for them when they arrive. They mentally walk through the situation and mentally jot down things that need tending to. Keeping a paper and pencil with you at all times and listing things that need doing is a step in the right direction (although even this can be carried to an extreme). (See Godly Counsel.)

Confidence

A big problem with most people who lack common sense is that they want too badly to do what is right. They often fear making a mistake and try too hard to please superiors. As a result they constantly get things wrong and earn disapproval. The person with common sense knows that mistakes happen, and just gets so busy with the job at hand that there isn't time to worry about what people will think.

This may be one reason why common sense often comes with experience (and age). After we've done a thing so many times, we develop enough confidence that we stop trying to impress.

Social Awareness

Another trait associated with common sense is social awareness. As you become sensitive to the needs of others (not in fear, but in love) you develop a flexibility that takes in the whole picture and not just your blinkered part of the job. You learn to work well with others and to do a good job while not losing track of issues such as how long it is taking, how much it is costing, how it relates to what others are doing, etc.

In conclusion, common sense is not really common at all, nor is it simple. It is extremely complex and something we must work a lifetime to achieve.

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