Oswald Letter

Common sense ain’t so common

by Dan Oswald

Have you ever known someone who was incredibly intelligent but had absolutely no common sense? I’ve known a few. So the other day when a colleague was describing to me a book he came across that contained “cowboy logic” and the line, “I’ve learned that common sense ain’t so common,” it got me thinking. And you know what? I had to agree with that cowboy’s logic.

Here is a series of quotes that might help you gain some perspective on common sense.

“It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education than to have education without common sense.” Robert Green Ingersoll

Common sense is defined as “sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like.” In a world filled with smart people with unending amounts of specialized training, how many of them really have any common sense? Consider one person you know who is well-educated but lacks common sense. Wouldn’t you rather have the common sense?

“Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

There’s something about common sense that is so plain, so simple that we tend to overlook its genius if we aren’t paying close attention. I grew up in a rural area. It wasn’t unusual to find common sense dressed in overalls and work boots. Our version of the cowboy was the Midwestern farmer.

“Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have you ever been taken aback by a straight-talking, no-nonsense person who exudes the type of practical intelligence that is common sense? We’re so accustomed to people posturing and positioning that a person who sheds all of the pretense and is comfortable enough to be plain-spoken and ordinary is the one who stands out.

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” Gertrude Stein

Especially in business, our world is filled with data. We have more information at our fingertips today than ever before. But could it be that we get so much information that we lose our common sense? It’s all too common to overcomplicate things. My high-school basketball coach, a man with a great deal of common sense, talked often about the KISS principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be right. More often than not, the beauty of common sense is in its simplicity.

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

There’s smart, and then there’s wise. The people with a great deal of common sense seem to have things figured out. In my experience, they do more thinking than talking. They have a weight about them that makes them stand out from others. In a word, they’re wise.

“My success was not based so much on any great intelligence but on great common sense.” Helen Gurley Brown

Have you ever noticed that there isn’t a direct correlation between intelligence and success? But I would venture a guess that the amount of common sense a person has does correlate with her success. That “practical judgment” that defines common sense is a big contributor to success.

“Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done.” C. E. Stowe (also frequently attributed to Josh Billings)

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the problem is that it’s not simple. It’s far from simple. Seeing things as they are takes discipline. It requires one to ignore all of the superfluous noise and focus on the truth. Then, once you see things as they are, you must act on them in the appropriate manner. Like I said, not so simple.

Common sense ain’t so common. When you find people who have the gift of common sense, embrace them. Watch them, learn from them, and emulate them if you can. It’s a rare gift that sets those who have it apart from those around them. It’s a shame it’s not more common.