Whilst there are many definitions of common sense, I find this a good one (i.e. easy to understand) “sound practical judgment that is independent of specialised knowledge and training”.
Imagine your boss asks you to count the amount of sheets of paper in the photocopy machine. Would you do it without thinking or do alarm bells go off in your head and ‘common sense’ tell you that something just ain’t quite right? Some societies are ‘programmed’ to think for themselves and others are programmed to give/follow orders without questioning. So does that mean that the person who starts counting pages without batting an eyelid has no common sense?
Some societies don’t like uncertainties or unknown situations so they have lots of rules and procedures to help avoid unambiguous situations. Other societies are fine with the unknown however, and prefer common sense to long lists of rules. Suppose something goes wrong in your project planning; do you consult the rule book/run straight to a supervisor or do you use your ‘cop on’ to sort it out yourself?
It may be useful to consider that common sense means different things to different people/cultures/societies. I spent the summer working in the US when I was a student. I was 20 so alcohol had to be procured in a not so legal fashion. I will never forget hearing a story from my boss who had been asked for ID whilst buying beer. He was in his 50s and looked it… Surely common sense would have told the seller that this man was over 21??
Some years back I spent 2 months traveling across Russia. In most places I was probably the only foreigner there. I quickly learned to avoid the police (actually I used to cross the street anytime I saw anyone in uniform as I was never really sure who was police and who not). In Russia ‘common sense’ dictates to avoid contact with the police whilst in many countries it is common sense to go to the police for help.
If we go back to the questions at the top; “who has it (common sense) and who doesn’t?”. That question may not be as easily answered as one might think, and to be honest I don’t know. One thing I do know however is that culture plays a very definite and strong role.
I am writing this from the perspective of a white middle class person from an individualistic, egalitarian society. As always I would be very interested to hear the comments of those from other societies.