[i] Growing up I learned very quickly that one of my grandpa’s favorite statements was that certain people lacked what he called, “common, ordinary sense.” This phrase normally followed a particular event perpetrated by some individual(s) that my old granddad was disgusted by. In truth, when people failed to think and act like my grandpa, this infamous mantra of his was not far behind. Closely related to this saying was a couple others that were often found strung with it, if the individual(s) in question had managed to truly flair up his ire. He’d say, “That person[s] is a college educated idiot!”; “They are book-smart, and brain-dead!”
I suppose a prudent writer would have placed some disclaimer or gave their reader’s a fair warning for the inflammatory comments recorded here. If you are one of those politically correct individuals who is easily offended, or are continually worried about offending some poor soul, then I apologize. The truth is, however, you’ll have to excuse my grandpa and get over it. Please recognize that he grew up in an entirely different era. A time when getting your hands dirty, calling someone an idiot for being an idiot, and working until the sun went down just came with the territory.
In truth, I believe if we can get past our own sensitivities for a moment we may see that there is a thread of truth to my grandfather’s meanderings. The question we need to be asking ourselves, is what does he mean? What does it mean to have common sense? What’s so common about it? And, why should we think of it as ordinary? What makes it so?
Before becoming a minister for the gospel of Jesus Christ, I was for many years a construction worker. In fact, it was during my short tenure with my grandpa when I got out of high school that introduced me to the terms you have become acquainted with now. Oh, how I hated those scathing words. I still remember the excessive frustration and irritation that I had towards him during those early years of learning how to be a builder. He would often tell me to go do this project or that project without any further instruction. The assumption he always seemed to make was that if he knew how to do it, so should everyone else. If he understood (saw) how it was supposed to work (go), then so should everyone else.
Herein lies the real meaning of common sense. It is not that common. It is learned. Learned behavior. Learned thoughts. My grandpa grew frustrated with my lack of understanding (know how; thinking) and my inability to do what he did (work as he did it). There was a huge disconnect from his view of reality and my own. Somewhere along the line he forgot that he too had learned these things. He too had received instruction sometime in the past that shaped his thinking.
His underlying assumption that followed was that everyone else had received that same instruction and as a result viewed the world and how it worked in exactly the same way. From there his own frustration grew. In some aspects he was right. Knowledge from books, while great, is very limited in a practical sense. Education will only get you so far. In real life application, there will be circumstances that will come up that one cannot solely depend upon book knowledge to get them out of. There may be underlying principles that help individuals make better, informed choices, but even then we may still do something wrong having to learn from the event.
However, on the flip-side there is nothing common, nor ordinary about “sense.” “Sense,” as it were, is learned. The education that we receive does give us insight into practical experiences. If someone had not taught my grandfather how to read a tape measure, he would not have been able to cut a board to its proper length on a consistent basis.[ii]
My purpose in bringing this up is not to poke fun at the old-timer. Nor is it to belittle the educated masses. And no, I am not going to teach you how to read a tape measure, plumb your house, or wire up your basement home theater system. My point is really very simple: We have in our daily lives often forgotten or falsely assumed that people think like we do. That what I look at or think of as “common ordinary sense,” may not, in fact, be that common or ordinary to everyone else around me.
Think about this for a moment. How many times have you gotten into an argument with a co-worker, a close friend, or even a family member because the two of you do not see the same thing from the same vantage point? To you wearing a bicycle helmet when riding your bike is a no brainer; whereas, your spouse does not see it as necessary. Why the difference in opinions? Is it because the spouse who does not see wearing a bicycle helmet as a necessity is a fool? An uneducated simpleton? Or is it perhaps that growing up wearing a helmet while riding their bike was not an option. Their parents did not provide one. The league of pediatricians[iii] did not advice every parent to make sure their child wore one. And let’s not forget the simple fact that from their point-of-view a bicycle helmet was unnecessary because they are alive. Therefore, the mentality of “what did not harm/kill me, will not harm/kill my own children,” is heavily motivating the decision making apparatus.
The truth of the matter is that we are all wired a little bit differently in the way we think and act. We have over the years developed biases and assumptions that govern the way we live our lives. Our worldviews color every aspect of reality. My grandpa grew up working with his hands, sweating through the long hours of the day, coming home completely drained physically. Thus, the common question he always asks me when he sees me is “Are you working?” “Yes, grandpa, I’m pastoring a church.” “No, I mean are you working anywhere else?” You see from his point-of-view if work is not physical labor, then it is not truly work. How can sitting behind a desk, reading volumes of books, pouring over the Scriptures for hours, and then taking all of those thoughts and put them into writing constitute real, hard work? According to my grandfather’s worldview pastoral work is not real work. Therefore, every time we see each other, like clockwork I am asked the same question.
Most people do not give the above topic much thought. They either try to avoid arguments at all costs—because who in the world would want to offend someone in our day and age? Or, they assume that the person they are talking to, who does not agree with their viewpoint is a dunderhead, a numskull or down and out bonehead. The reality is, however, we are all governed by presuppositional thinking.
A presupposition is something that people presuppose to be true. They are normally labeled biases, assumptions, and/or convictions. When someone argues about a topic, or looks at evidence in the world around them, these presuppositions act as intellectual lenses that color our view of the world. Together as a unit they form what is referred to as a worldview.
Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino describe a worldview as “analogous to an intellectual lens through which people view reality and that the color of the lens is a strong determining factor that contributes to what they believe about the world.”[iv] Jason Lisle adds, a person
Cannot avoid…having a worldview—but it is crucial to [have] the right [one]…a person wearing red glasses might erroneously conclude that everything in the world is red, so a person with a wrong worldview will draw incorrect conclusions about [reality]. But a correct worldview can prevent us from drawing the wrong conclusions and can improve our understanding of the world.[v]
In the past I have often heard the refrain from unbelievers, “why are there so many denominations? If Christianity is true, if the Bible that you stand upon is truly authoritative, then why all the differences of opinion?” The answer is right here. Christians like everyone else have a worldview, and a lot of the disagreements one find denominationally and theologically is directly tied to their varying presuppositions that make up their worldviews.
As a Christian, I am called to preach/teach the gospel to every creature. If you share that same calling as a Christian—and this is not limited to those who are only ministers or what others might deem as full-time ministry—then you need to be aware of what I have been speaking about today. Even if you are not a Christian, but you have friends who are Christians this brief post should help you as well. We need to realize that in order to truly communicate with one another we have to understand where the other person is coming from. We have to be willing to ask questions of one another, in order to learn where we truly stand on an issue. It does a Christian no good to say to someone who believes “abortion is a woman’s choice; an individual right” that it is wrong and cold-blooded murder of the innocent, if we fail to share with them our reasons for believing so.[vi]
Being aware of your own worldview, being aware of another’s worldview will not necessarily settle an argument. It will not necessarily win that person to your side, convincing them of the rightness of your convictions. We need to remember that a person’s presuppositions are deeply coveted (cherished), and they will not give them up without a fight. However, it will better equip you as a person to speak with “gentleness and respect” (1Pet 3.15). And that’s really the point. If we are going to effectively reason with people and we are going to do it in a God-honoring way, then we need to understand the underlying issues of what make us tick. We should not assume that what is “common, ordinary sense” for me is going to be all that common or ordinary for the person that I am conversing with. Although, my grandpa did not intend it at the time, he taught me a very valuable lesson. One that I would like to think has helped me better understand people as a whole, and the need for clearer communication as I continue to witness to a lost world for Christ.
[i] Photography provided by FreeDigitalPhotos.net; published 24 May, 2013 by Foto76.
[ii] I add the phrase “consistent basis,” because the truth is there may be times when we know or do things by coincidence, but not necessarily from “know how.” Thus, my grandpa may have cut a number of boards correct, even though his knowledge of how to read a tape measure was not truly developed.
[iii] This is as far as I am aware a fake entity, although pediatricians do seem to promote and push with a fervency a self-professed dogma of their own.
[iv] Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino, Unshakeable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions about the Christian Faith, (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2001), 55.
[v]Jason Lisle, The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins debate, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009), 27.
[vi] I suppose that there are some who would assume that this only applies to morally charged issues, as the aforementioned abortion, however that is not the case. Our worldview affects our interpretation of everything we come into contact with. This is why you will have disagreements between individuals on politics (conservative vs. liberal), in science (various theories regarding reality as we know it), parenting (discipline, number of after school activities kids are involved in, how they are to dress), finances (what to spend money on, how much to save or blow it all), etc. Literally every subject that you can think of, that can be disagreed on, is fair game when it comes to worldview conflicts.