Common sense is the ability to exercise logical judgment. It is generally the most obvious and practical course of action that most reasonable people would take in any given situation.
Common sense does not require specialized training, but rather involves practical knowledge that most people possess. Having common sense allows all human beings to function in normal circumstances encountered in everyday life.
Examples of common sense include going to the doctor when feeling very ill for a prolonged period of time, not picking a fight with someone twice our size, and looking both ways before crossing the street.
Definition of Common Sense
We can have a better understanding of the term by breaking it down into its two components: common, and sense.
The first refers to the fact that it is an ability that all persons have, not just those that are educated. The second refers to the idea that it is an ability based in logic and reason.
According to Rosenfeld (2011), the modern definition of the term first appeared in the 18th century, as:
“Those plain, self-evident truths or conventional wisdom that one needed no sophistication to grasp and no proof to accept precisely because they accorded so well with the basic (common sense) intellectual capacities and experiences of the whole social body” (p. 23).
Examples of Common Sense
1. Not Entering an Elevator Until Others Have Exited
Have you ever noticed that some people try to get into the elevator as soon as the doors open? It’s as if they think no one is in there. Since no one is in the elevator after it has just went down 20 floors on a weekday at noon, it should be okay to just rush right in. Right?
If those people rushing to get in would just wait 10 seconds, that should be enough time for everyone to exit. Instead, some people are just so caught-up in their own goals that they don’t even consider that the people in the elevator would like to get out first, instead of being knocked back in.
Letting people out of the elevator before trying to enter is an example of basic common sense.
2. Wearing a Mask if you’re a Bad Guy
Occasionally a short video will show-up on social media of someone trying to break into a store, without a mask. The perpetrator enters the store, looks around a little to see if anyone is watching, and then demands the cashier empty the till. It does happen.
In this day and age, it should be common knowledge that there are cameras everywhere. Plus, with social media being so prevalent, people must surely know that if you don’t wear a mask, your photo is going to be everywhere.
It’s just common sense to wear a mask if you’re going to want to hide your identity!
3. Dressing Up for a Job Interview
Regardless of our personal dress styles and preferences, most of us know that it’s a cultural norm to dress in formal attire for an interview.
Of course, no matter what you wear, it probably won’t affect your performance on the job. What you wear has nothing to do with your intelligence or your abilities. So, under the surface, this little game of “dressing the part” seems like nonsense.
But nevertheless, we know that we live in a world where we’re judged by how we dress – especially in job interviews.
We can either reject the cultural ideal and, consequently, be rejected for one job after another. Or, we can use common sense, and dress the part.
So, most of us will attempt to dress up and look culturally appropriate for a professional context because it’s common sense that we should try to “play the part” in order to get the job.
4. Using Oven Mitts
There’s common sense, and then there’s common sense. Wearing oven mitts is a good example of the latter. We all know the oven is hot. If the oven is hot, then the tray that has been inside the oven for the last 45 minutes will also be hot. Seems logical.
If the tray inside the oven is hot, then if we take hold of it with our bare hands, our fingers will be …well, you get the point. There are some instances of common sense that just seem too obvious.
In a way, it’s the “obvious” element of common sense which makes it “common sense”.
5. Check Both Ways Before Crossing the Road
Sometimes common sense is just something that comes natural to us. Such is the case with crossing the road: you would think that no one needs to tell you to check for cars before running out onto the street.
And yet, we need to teach this to children over and over again. Children seem not to have common sense. Their brain hasn’t developed that instinct yet.
But, just about every driver has had the experience of someone walking in front of the cars randomly, causing you to hit the breaks. Similarly, you might have been cut-off by a car swerving in front of you without using an indicator. Car crashes and near misses seem to happen whenever someone left their common sense at home before heading out in public!
6. Not Checking Your Phone During a Job Interview
Going to a job interview represents a crucial moment. Just getting the interview in the first place is an accomplishment. There might have been 200 applicants. Making the first cut and being called in to meet HR is an opportunity that many did not receive.
Acing the interview is vital to getting an offer. So, you would think that everyone would try to make the best impression possible: dressing professionally; being prepared to respond to challenging questions; and having a good answer to “where do you see yourself in 5 years.”
So, checking one’s phone while the HR manager is asking us a question is probably not a good idea. That, is common sense.
7. Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You
There may be several times in one’s life in which we are at the mercy of another. Usually this person is called our “boss”. In other circumstances they may have a different title, such as with a valued client or a professor whose letter of recommendation we need for graduate school.
So, it is imperative to stay in that person’s good graces. They could change the trajectory of our life at the snap of a finger.
Therefore, it is a good idea to do everything we can to please them and let them know that we value and respect their role in our career prospects. We certainly don’t want to offend them and then make things awkward later when we ask for that promotion or need a recommendation letter.
Not biting the hand that feeds us is an example of common sense in its most pragmatic form.
8. Not Congregating in a Doorway
For some reason, people really like to stop at the doorway and stand in the middle of it. Sometimes it is the doorway of an unfamiliar establishment. Sometimes it’s the doorway of a store, condo, or office building. No matter where it might be, one thing can be said for sure: it’s annoying.
People need the doorway, other people, that have somewhere they need to go; people that don’t have time to stand around and talk to each other or look puzzled at what lies before them; people with places to go and appointments to keep.
If there were a top-ten list of things that are irritating but should be common sense, congregating in a doorway would be number one.
9. Wearing Sunblock to the Beach
Everyone has a friend that either forgets their sunblock at home or refuses to put it on because they “want to get a tan.” Then, about five hours later, they are as red as a lobster. Their skin is burnt to a crisp and now all they can do is whimper because their t-shirt hurts.
Not to mention the fact that with climate change and the ozone disappearing, the rays from the sun are so strong it’s like putting yourself in a tanning bed wearing Crisco and turning the setting to 11. It just doesn’t make sense. Or, shall we say, it just doesn’t make common sense.
10. Don’t Hammer your Thumb
Right alongside “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is another famous idiom: don’t shoot hammer your thumb. Just in case you don’t know what this means, it is basically trying to teach the lesson that sometimes we can be our own worst enemy.
Examples can include revealing your true budget for a home renovation even though the contractor has just given a lower quote, or telling a used car salesman that you’re a bad negotiator and easily fooled. It’s just not a good idea. Sometimes the less that is said, the better.
You would think that this lesson is common sense, and it is, but because there are so many people that are lacking this form of wisdom, society has to create idioms like this one.
11. Taking an Umbrella
When the local meteorologist says there is a 99% chance of precipitation, it means you should take your umbrella. It’s common sense. When you look out the window before going to the supermarket and you see dark skies and flashes of lightning, it means you should take your umbrella. It’s common sense.
When you live in a high-rise condo and see everyone below walking around with opened umbrellas, it should be a clear indicator of the appropriate course of action: take your umbrella. It’s common sense.
The proper course of action in each of these circumstances is clear to all reasonable human beings.
12. Look Where You Are Walking
Before smartphones became so popular, people used to practice common sense by looking where they walk. It was a habit often drilled into them by their parents so they wouldn’t walk into other people, or a piece of furniture.
My how things have changed. Today, many of us hardly ever look where we are walking. People are so engrossed in what is happening on their phone, that they often walk while watching their screen. Some are even typing a text message while they walk, or stopping at the bottom of an escalator to finish a few moves on Minecraft.
It’s not a very wise habit, and completely lacks common sense. Let’s just hope that one day our phones will also give us a warning signal right before we are about to walk off a cliff.
Although common sense is a skill that is supposed to be common, apparently it is not. There are many examples of people acting in ways that are actually the opposite of common sense. There is a term for that too, but we want to be polite.
Even though society has created numerous idioms to help us out, many people still seem to fail this simple test of IQ. These are the people that stand in the middle of a doorway of a busy room, or go outside in the pouring rain without an umbrella.
Obviously, there is no cure for not having common sense, otherwise the pharmaceutical companies would be making a fortune.
Gilovich, T. (1991). How we know what isn’t so: The fallibility of human reason in everyday life. New York, NY: Free Press.
Paine, T. (2003). Common sense, the rights of man and other essential writings of Thomas Paine. Penguin.
Rosenfeld, S. (2011). Common sense: A political history. Harvard University Press.
Taylor, D. (n.d.). The importance of common sense. Amazing People. https://www.amazingpeople.co.uk/importance-common-sense/