Opinion > Star Guests
Enlightening thoughts on common sense
By Doug Smith
In my column last week, I claimed that psychotherapy was actually not much more than common sense. After reading the comments below about common sense by one of my readers, a man I know and admire, I realize how naïve my views are about the topic of common sense.
I will share with you most of his comments, while at the same time keeping him anonymous, as he has been involved in Alcoholic's Anonymous for many years and except for one period, remained sober. He had well over a decade of sobriety before he lost his way and as you will below, has done well since then. His name is Mike, but since there are probably countless individuals in AA with that name, I do feel safe in mentioning his first name. I live for the replies like this that I received from Mike as well as many of my other readers. First and foremost, I am a student.
"Hey Doug...I've actually pondered the term 'common sense' for a lot of years...my belief is that it is a set of expected attitudes/responses among a group of people who share a common worldview...essentially, common sense in a group is generated by that groups' common experience...as we've moved to a larger global community, I think that there's increasing danger in the term...my learning and experience isn't going to generate the same kinds of rational responses as a person from say the slums of Quito, Ecuador...both may be rational and reasonable given our individual experiences, but not common between us...illegal immigration is a good example...a lot of people in this country are angry because foreigners come here to 'take our jobs and our money and receive benefits that they don't deserve'...the few illegals that I've known though describe an escape from hopelessness, grinding poverty, and (in one case) political unrest...their common sense tells them to escape the situation, even at the risk of death or imprisonment...the prevailing common sense among many groups in America is that they have no business being here and should be treated as criminals.
".......easy to make a point when resorting to extreme situations...but I had a personal experience at my old company about 15 years back during an HR meeting that was called to explain the new company health insurance benefits...there was a African American woman seated in the first row (one of about a dozen that worked at this 105 million dollar company) and she asked a question about what would be covered/not covered in a very specific family situation...after a bit of fumbling around trying to find an answer, the HR director finished his response with, 'you just have to use your common sense'... I raised my hand and said that I felt like common sense derived from common experience and that I didn't think it was reasonable that he assume that everyone in the room owned a common life experience...he then told her that he'd research her answer and get back to her...another time I was on jury duty...we'd been in the deliberation room for about 12 hours, it was approaching midnight and we were locked up on the details of what restitution would be paid in a civil case that was complex such that it had taken 4 days to try...one of the guys on the jury got all churned up and said 'for Christ's sake, just use your common sense'...I didn't respond to that, but had the thought that what he was really meaning to say was 'for Christ's sake, just think like I do'.......
"...I'm pretty sure that the term common sense has been around for centuries (although I don't know that for fact)...I think it's highly applicable in smallish groups...tribes, small towns, churches, athletic organizations...clusters of people who have common beliefs, common goals, and a tried and true method of achieving those goals within that belief system...the common sense that's espoused in AA is counter-intuitive in many respects for people who are not involved in the program...this is due to the fact that the addict/Alcoholic life experience (and consequently the worldview) differs so much from a non addict/alcoholic's...it's actually one of the reasons that the program (drunks working with other drunks) can work so well...my belief is that as the world gets smaller, and as we move towards being a global community, the term common sense becomes less and less meaningful...in the emerging social environment, cases where it's used as a litmus to judge behavior can become downright dangerous depending on the situation and who's involved.
"...having said all of this, I enjoyed your article (as I always do) and I understand what you were saying...it doesn't take a pile of degrees and accolades to be able to unpack a problem, help someone to find its root, and offer suggestions for improvement...One thing I've always admired about you is your ability to listen patiently and objectively with compassion and empathy...I've been to seminars that suggest that's a skill that can be achieved through practice, but I also believe that to be really good at it, it takes a certain amount of natural talent...my wife is talented in this area...I am not...through living with her and taking her suggestions, I've become much better at it than I was (the skill aspect) but I doubt I'll ever achieve the level of ability that she (or you) have achieved (the talent aspect)...I just don't intuit the same scenario as she does when presented with the same information by the same person with the same problem...I dunno...maybe someday I'll get there...until then, when I get lost and confused on some issue it's nice to know that I have people in my life that I can go to and avail myself of their common sense.
"...hope this didn't come off as being critical or preachy...it's just that I've spent a long time thinking about the term and felt compelled to share my thoughts...hopefully I've done it in a way that isn't offensive...(and no, I'm not currently able to intuit that on my own)...(BTW...picking my 6 year chip up tonight...it works if you work it)...."
I consider Mike's comments to be absolutely profound. I hope his thoughts enrich you as they have enriched and enlightened me.
Doug Smith is a licensed professional counselor. 972-436-6227 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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