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Common Sense is Over-rated
By William S. Cottringer
Last edited: Friday, July 10, 2015
Posted: Friday, July 10, 2015

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Common sense is very common but way over-rated. Here's why.



Bill Cottringer

“Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.”― Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

     It seems to be a sad common consensus today that common sense is not so common anymore. But, the validity of that conclusion really depends upon using  the correct definition of “common sense.” The term was originally invented by early Greek and German Philosophers and pertained more to being able to find the truth of something with sound perception, judgment and understanding, which were assumed to be commonly distributed to all human beings but later discovered not to be used as equally well. The single connotative meaning of the term back then became a moral and ethical compass pointing toward rightness, living a good life, and being  a mature master of our assigned stewardship role in managing the rest of life and all things in it for the best outcome for all, especially for those with less evolution of innate abilities.

     Today, it seems as though common sense is meant more in a practical way as the basic sense a person is expected to have to get at least average results in what they are attempting to do, especially being reasonably successful in solving problems and dealing with adversity. Fairly good results all things considered, and not too many bad side effects in the package. And so in this sense of the term, common sense is very common and even abundant.

    At the end of the day, however, we are not after acquiring common sense, but rather good sense. This is because solid research equates success, and sustaining it over the long haul, more with the latter. All success starts with smart thinking which includes good sense, which does seem to be sorely lacking if you take an honest look at the level of success that is enjoyed by the majority of people in the world, at least according to any objective measures of it. Most are sadly just trying to survive, rather than being able to thrive with their virtually unlimited but unknown human potential, which they could evolve into. We’ll leave that problem for another day though.

     So, the real question of our day is, Why is the good sense version of common sense not so common these days? Here are seven clues:


      We originally invented words in order to directly and denotatively stand for real objects we wished to share and discuss with others. But, over the years, we invented so many words, and expanded even each single word to have several connotative meanings, the relationship between the word and the object became very abstract, remote and certainly not commonly agreed-upon. This is certainly the case with the term “common sense.”  The real denotative meaning—the basic good sense people needed in perceiving, judging and understanding the things in life to become their best selves—grew a much different connotation. Today common sense is just the level of sense that appears to be common among average people.


     The kind of creativity that makes good sense to use more of, is growing the tendency to not be stuck with usual or common views of how things are or to deal with problems and obstacles with typical strategies and available tools. A good example is to not let yourself only use problem-solving tools that are easily and readily available, but to re-invent the problem itself by looking for unusual tools not necessarily in plain sight or even using ordinary things in new and unusual ways. That is something we can all improve in doing and it is free.  I don’t know about you, but if I was stuck in a mental institution against my will and had to pass a test to get outinvolving being put in a bath tub full of water and then tested to select the best way to get rid of the water in the tub, being the use of a spoon, glass or bucket—I would choose something more effective, like pulling the plug!


     I have been an avid student of common sense for over five decades now, but my definition of common sense is more in line with Mark Twain’s, or the more desirable and useful “good sense” part of common sense. Twain maintained common sense was the simple knack of seeing something the way it really is and doing something the way it should be done. And the quickest way to improve this type of good sense is to learn from those who already have it, by asking good questions. Of course, you have to be curious enough to ask such questions and then be willing to try out the answers and continually regroup with inevitable failures until you are finally successful. Actually creative, curious people ask better questions than they provide good answers to others’ questions. Peeling back answers with more curious “why” follow-up questions is a sure way to get started with curiosity.


     I find it rather odd that we invented the Internet as a way to improve the sad level of connectivity we were all experiencing, but the electronic version turns out to be much less satisfying than the real thing. There is a good reason for that and it involves the connection between real connectivity and real empathy. Genuine empathy is rare and very difficult to come by and that is why it is not so common. Increasing your empathy requires exposing yourself to emotionally and physically dangerous and risky situations so that you can truly understand what another person is going though, from your firsthand experience and not just reading about it or even going through psychotherapy training where empathy is the most valuable currency. Some say empathy comes from your openness to love unconditionally which we all aspire towards and yet very few achieve. The hardest part about learning empathy is in trying to accept the unacceptable, like when bad things happen to good people who don’t deserve those bad things.


     Another term for the consciousness that we can be aware of, at least if we learn how to harness it, is intuition. Although intuition is an innate faculty with all human beings in being the most reliable link to objective reality, its actual use in solving life’s conflicts and challenges is far from common. The trouble is we don’t evaluate successes and failures reliably enough to typically keep score in objectively assessing the correctness or incorrectness of an intuitive solution, based on the actual results we get one way or the other. The good news about this one though, is that the computer age is forcing us all to become more intuitive by using the intuitive alternatives to navigating computer programs and operations to make things easier and simpler, which at first are really more difficult and complex, until you cut through everything by following what your intuition is trying to tell you unconsciously, below rationality and emotionality.


      The only common thing about conflict is that it will occur and reoccur frequently in life for us all. In fact, it seems unresolved conflicts come back with a vengeance to haunt us and even resolved conflicts double their difficulty level the next time around. What is not so common though, is our understanding of the beneficial opportunities that are readily available in any conflict that confronts us, and of course our skills to take advantage of these opportunities at fulfilling our common mission of learning, growing and improving into the best person we can be. Resolving conflicts effectively involves all these other skills.


     This last on the list is a given because the good sense version of common sense is the result of critical thinking, which is hardly common. The trouble is, all these other ways to accumulate good sense interact with our thinking and feeling and don’t always arrive at the right response and conclusion that good sense alone would arrive at. So, it is essential to be able to separate the real truth from everything else and you can only do this by eliminating the invalid, biased thoughts and feelings that contaminate the real truth in anything. Being human with self-consciousness works against us at least until we can slow down and begin to think about our thinking and realize what we see has more to do with the viewpoint from which we are doing the looking and seeing, than the truth of something we are certain about. That is how critical thinking starts to build good sense that can be much more common than it currently is..


     If you wish to increase your good sense to become more successful, then try experimenting by taking reasonable risks and putting yourself into situations that push you to exercise your creativity, curiosity, conflict resolution skills, empathy and intuition more than you currently do. And, think about things more critically to get the best truth and  always choose the words you think, write and speak with, very carefully to get the best outcome.

“Things do not change; we change.” ― Henry David Thoreau.

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President of Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security Patrol, Inc. in Bellevue, WA., along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several recent business and self-development books, including, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence), The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree), and Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers) Reality Repair Rx (PublishAmerica), and Reality Repair (Global Vision Press) Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 652-8067, 425-454-5011 or or

Web Site The Prosperity Zone

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Reviewed by William Cottringer
Folks--I think the neural pathways are worn with too much "common sense" and new experience with using "good sense" has to be orchestrated to replace and rebuild the right good sense pathways. In other words you can't think or talk your way out of a failure that you behaved yourself into. This is the challenge! Bill C.
Reviewed by Ronald Hull
You have beaten me to writing this and have done a much better job than I. Fossil fuels have made our lives so much better, and so much more complex, that we have left the family and village where we learned common sense (good sense) to survive and improve our lives. I have found that most people are miserable, like Thoreau, and live their lives prescribed by others… What they think is common sense. And strangely, they hold to it. It is very hard for them sometimes, to see the obvious and change.

As our problems increase with all these ill-conceived common sense rules in place, it will take uncommon sense to lead us out.

Reviewed by Jansen Estrup
Uncommonly well spelled out, even though you had to trick me into reading it with that title.

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