3 Questions: It Is Just Common Sense That There Is No Common Sense


Depending upon common sense in others is certain to lead to frustration. Do not let this happen to you.

Why Is There No Common Sense?

We often use the phrase “common sense” when we are baffled as to why someone or some group did something counter to what everyone should just know. Have we ever stopped to ask why this person or group did not know what they were supposed to know? Are they really that stupid? Perhaps they are, but chances are good what we thought was “common” was not so common after all. Perhaps it is only common among a smaller group of people like a community.

But How Does a Community Have Common Sense?

A community does not have common sense. Instead, a community builds common sense by creating a cultural sense or context. This is done through peer norming which is nothing more than reinforcing desired behaviors and practices while shunning undesired behaviors and practices.

Because one community may have a different set of desired behaviors and practices from another, what “should” be common may become uncommon.

Communities can be of almost any size. For example, a group at work may develop its own accepted behaviors and practices which “anyone should know.” Except that “anyone” does not because they have not been part of the cultural sense. At least, that is until peer norming sets them “straight.”

What Does This Mean for Diversity?

If you are a person who embraces diversity in the broadest sense, that is diversity includes race, gender, age, nationality, geographical differences (e.g., upper Midwest, the Deep South), etc., then you probably already have a sick feeling. Diversity can throw “common sense” on its head.

Peer norming that creates the cultural sense that we mistake for common sense runs counter to what diversity brings to us. This is not to say that our norms are wrong or bad. I am suggesting that our norms are simply “our norms.” These norms can exist without judgement. In fact, they often do. How often do we question our norms?

Not all is lost when common sense runs up against diversity. The key is to become aware of when our “common sense” is not so common, and that we should then examine the value of the common sense item in question. Embracing diversity gives us the opportunity to create a modified cultural sense—one that incorporates elements of the different groups involved.

This modified cultural sense becomes our new common sense until it becomes modified again.

Which I did not have to tell you, because it is just common sense that everyone knows this.

For ways to mitigate the problems that arise when working with diverse people or groups, please refer to “Are We Sharing the Same Context?”