Why "Anyone With Common Sense Would Know That!" Is Not Common Sense

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 10.854% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Occasionally, I write about simple topics and commenters scorn: “This is obvious! Anyone with common sense knows that!”
First off, “common sense” is often “education” in disguise. I have a lot of common sense when it comes to money, but that’s because my parents were good with money and taught me a lot of quiet financial stuff when I was very young about saving cash and being careful about contracts and so forth.
I only realized it wasn’t really “common sense” when I started hanging around folks whose parents didn’t teach them these lessons, and it turns out that my “God, everyone knows that!” turned out to be something that I’d actually been told back when I was seven. I’d simply known it for so long that I’d forgotten someone once had to educate me.
Scorning people for not knowing things that someone didn’t actually tell them is a douche move.
Second, ya do realize that some people have had their common sense purposely broken by abusive families, right? There’s all sorts of folks who don’t have common sense when it comes to love simply because their family needed someone compliant, and so taught them that love looked like “shutting up and never expressing your own needs” or love looks like “tending to someone relentlessly no matter how terrible they are to you” or bullshit like that.
Scorning people for not knowing things that someone purposely misled them away from is a douche move.
And lastly, “common sense” is often “instinct” in disguise. And everyone has different instincts. If you’re the sort of person who’s naturally slow to trust, it’s “common sense” to not fling yourself headfirst into love – but that’s not actually common, it’s an emotion distinct to you.
You know what should be common sense? Understanding that your comfort zone is not a universal thing shared by every other human.
Scorning people for not being born with your inherent preferences is a douche move.
I take the XKCD 10,000 approach. I too try not to make fun of people for admitting they don’t know things. It’s a big world. Someone’s discovering something you thought was blazingly obvious every day – and in some cases, that admittedly-trite advice hits home to someone and helps them.
What people write sometimes may be obvious.
It should also be obvious that that essay was not written for you.


  1. Alexis
    Jul 1, 2016

    This is a great post, Ferrett. I’d just add amother point: “common sense” is often cultural and classist. What American culture considers common sense often amounts to advice middle class white people tell their kids. For poor or minority kids, the world is an entirely different place. “Ask your mom to help you with your math homework!” is bad advice for a kid whose mom doesn’t speak English or only has an 8th grade education. “Hire a tutor to help you succeed on your SAT!” is laughable advice to someone whose parents are struggling to make rent each month.
    I can’t tell you the number of people who gave me advice when I was financially struggling, and how clueless it all sounded. Don’t go out to eat or buy Starbucks coffee? My car’s being repossessed because my bank was hacked and my account shut down for weeks while they sorted it all out. I wasn’t poor because of Starbucks. I was poor because I didn’t earn enough money to live comfortably and the economy was in the toilet, so I couldn’t find a better job.

  2. Jericka
    Jul 2, 2016

    I was in college when I learned that common sense wasn’t. I was in a state far from home and was running into things that everyone expected me to know, that I did not. So, it’s regional, and gendered, and classist, as well.
    So what I came up with and have said ever since is that common sense is just all the things you learned long enough ago that you don’t remember learning them.

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