Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why Isn't Common Sense More Common?

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck. What you see is what you thought before you looked. Stupid is forever, ignorance can be fixed.

Over and over we hear these common phrases that point out, quite simply, common sense will guide you if you are open to seeing things for what they are. Not your perception based on what you think the outcome should be or how it might benefit you better or what your friend said is true. Just recognizing simple facts.

Common sense is defined in Merriam-Websters dictionary as "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts." The operative word being simple. We sometimes take common sense for granted because we really want to believe something other than the facts presented. Employing the KISS principle, "keep it simple, stupid," universally applies to most situations. Taking out all of the extra crap clogging your brain (like other people's opinions) helps. But, if common sense is so simple, why isn't it more common?

Sometimes we just want to believe something other than the facts staring us in the face. We really want to believe we can make unlimited income selling magical acai berry juice. If Joe is doing it, why can't I? We really want to believe that our friend has our best interest at heart and make excuses for each disrespectful or hurtful remark lobbed our way. We really, really want to believe that if we spend a lot of money on lottery tickets sooner or later we have to win. It sounds so easy. But the facts tell a different story. Joe probably got in on the bottom of a pyramid scheme and will make a ton of money off of you selling acai berry juice for him. Not all of our friends are good ones. Some friendships need to be reassessed from time to time to make sure only the genuine get to stick around. And, let's face it, if it were so easy to win the lottery we would all be millionaires.

I'm not sure if common sense is inherent or learned, or a combination of both, but I have to believe that those who use common sense generally trust their own intuition and instinct. Using your own instinct, coupled with a simple perception of the situation or facts, is a win-win situation. Trusting your own instincts, however, can be a hard lesson to learn.

Many times Nicholas has come home and asked me if something is true. Usually the "something" is a far-fetched, ridiculous story concocted by one of his little buddies. Usually, the buddy is trying desperately to impress his friends. And, usually, the story hasn't the slightest chance of believability. But, to a 6-year-old with a vivid imagination, anything is possible.

"Mom, Danny told me today that he ate six hundred licorice sticks all at once and didn't even get sick. Do you think that's true?"

Before I crush his brilliantly imagined scenario with an unequivocal, "there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that Danny ate six hundred licorice sticks. Period." I always try to turn it around and ask Nicholas what he thinks. As in, do you really think that Danny could have consumed six hundred licorice sticks in one sitting? How long would it take to even do that? Can his stomach old six-hundred licorice sticks? Does that even sound feasible?

My questions back to Nicholas serve a few purposes. First, I want him to stop and really think about what he hears and not just believe everything everyone tells him. I can tell him that his friend didn't really wrestle a two hundred pound alligator and live to tell about it or that his friend's dad simply did not land on the moon, but it is much more effective if I ask Nicholas's opinion and he comes to the conclusion all by himself. He wants desperately to believe his friend but most of the time he realizes that some things just don't ring true.

Second, I stress to him that because he is even asking me to validate his friend's allegation he already doubts its believability. If he believed his friend he wouldn't have to ask me what I think. So, in the end, we agree that he has already figured out the allegation was nonsense all by himself. I am happy that he applied simple common sense and he is happy that I think he is a genius. Little by little Nicholas is beginning to understand the concept of trusting his own instincts and using common sense when trying to make sense of the senseless.

Seeing things for what they are and not what we want them to be is tricky. But, it is possible with a little practice. Keep repeating the mantras: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck. What you see is what you thought before you looked. Stupid is forever, ignorance can be fixed.

Pretty soon common sense might become more common after all.

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