The Erosion of Common Sense

Erosion is a fairly common phenomenon in Nature. It can expose the complex network of roots under trees when excess flooding gradually removes valuable soil, make the surfaces of erstwhile rough stones smooth when water flows over them constantly over a prolonged period of time, or reshape huge structures man-made or natural over several centuries. Generally speaking, it refers to a gradual deterioration or diminishing through constant and unperturbed intervention of an eroding agent, which in most cases doesn’t bode too well for whatever that is experiencing the slow reduction in its existence.

An interesting parallel that can be drawn here is with the way our own instincts that we have unknowingly cultivated over several years begin to gradually diminish and eventually become inaccessible after strong floods of eroding agents begin washing it away. For various reasons, we mold our minds to use convoluted thinking patterns that we have carelessly programmed ourselves with over time. We constantly reinforce these new ways of thinking because we either no longer believe in ourselves, are too afraid to resort to the former ways, or simply because we cannot accept the fact that we could be doing it all wrong. What had been a rock solid monument of the sum total of our experiences seems of little value to us or we choose not to trust what this monument tries to convey in critical times, letting it be eroded to leave a small lump of mass buried deep inside our psyche. We forget the significance of the gift of foresight that our forefathers gave us, the ‘gut instinct’, something which serves as a guide to base our decisions on.

Our minds after all, as they are right now, are a product of whatever we have learned and experienced in our lives. The stronger the impact of the event on our mind, the deeper the imprint that serves as another page in our handbook of dealing with similar scenarios in the future. How comprehensive and reliable this notebook is depends on how much we expose ourselves to the world, and whether we are willing to accept the experiences of others as supplementing pages in our little booklet. Eventually, those adamant on learning from their mistakes, their misfortunes or even their successes refer to his storehouse of knowledge almost instinctively whenever prompted in everyday life. For them, it is important to doubt alternate ways of approaching problems before opting for them instead of a page from their own booklet of life experiences. How they approach the molding of their ways of tackling problems or their way of thinking is dependent upon factors like emotional maturity, their level of understanding of the problem at hand, or what they are able to extract from their mental notebook of experiences that most closely resembles the situation.

So, what leads us to lose our capability to just think straight? Here are some of the reasons that may play a role in the gradual erosion of common sense:

  1. Living in the information age can certainly be perplexing for the large majority. Not being able to differentiate between the right from the wrong and the fake from the genuine is a struggle which the average internet savvy human mind deals with every day. And given the complexity of our lives and the limited time we have at our disposal, it’s usually easy for to fall for the anything any popular ‘influencer’ would say in more or less 140 characters, or in a video making the rounds on social media that passionately elaborates how everything we have been doing with our lives has been one big glorious mistake. It becomes easy when we let our reducing attention spans and temptations to rapidly absorb emotionally charged messages overtake our sense of doubting something, thus allowing it to mold our thinking. Slowly, over time our mind becomes a mess of conflicting theories from a variety of theorists, resulting in incoherent thinking patterns that change us fundamentally. By ignoring that little notebook in our head during this process, and not first challenging each and everything that we are bombarded with every day, we allow the gradual deterioration of our ability to make decisions that just make the most sense.
  2. A far less passive way would be unbridled intellectual curiosity, and the temptation to put into practice whatever newfound knowledge we obtain. At the outset there is absolutely nothing wrong with being curious, seeking deeper meaning and discovering sparkling new ways to conduct the variety of problems we face in every day work and life. But here again we dismiss our ability to evaluate something because (a) we have gotten used to the they-are-popular-so-they-must-be-right way of thinking or (b) we are just not seeking the right kind of information to help us solve problems. By entrusting our decision making at critical times to a set of theories, a framework, a set of commandments, or a rule book crafted for limited scenarios, we are jeopardizing the outcome and damaging other’s confidence in you as someone who can be trusted with making more informed decisions.
  3. We have all had those moments in our lives where something didn’t turn out as expected, resulting in you doubting your ability to make sound decisions and presenting yourself as someone who can be trusted to lead everyone to victory. Some of us rebound fairly quickly with little or no damage, but others have a difficult time getting back up, and may not ever regain the strength to get on their feet. The resulting lack of belief in ourselves makes us either pursue one of the aforementioned avenues, or being extremely hesitant in making even the simplest of decisions with confidence. We simply cannot trust what’s written in that little notebook anymore, because we failed miserably once and are fearful that we will make the same mistake again. The lack of courage to face another potential beating makes us retreat.
  4. In addition to the above, another fairly common problem that serves as a stronger eroding agent is a lack of humility and an unwillingness to accept change. It may stem from an overblown sense of superiority possibly due to excess mollycoddling by irresponsible mentors in the past, or a deep feeling of insecurity as explained in point 3 above. We feel offended when we are challenged, and will go to great unreasonable lengths to ensure that what makes the most sense is not pursued at all. We begin to take great pride in our ability to discover new knowledge as described in 2 above, or in our false understanding that we possess more knowledge than the average mortal. The situation becomes increasingly complex here, because there are multiple layers that would need to be addressed. The first would be to manage our ego and be genuinely humble by realizing that it would first and foremost make the most sense to listen to what your gut has to say, and to those you feel are in tune with reality and have something to bring forth based on their own notebooks. The lower layers then require realizing that we need to start critically assessing everything before jumping to conclusions.
  5. Finally, we have pure fear. When we are afraid, we simply refuse to do what makes the most sense because of the fear of failure, or repercussions. By doing so we push ourselves further into more challenging situations which we are then completely incapable of handling. If we are afraid of trusting your gut to make the right decision, at least trust it enough to step back from making bigger mistakes that may seem right in the short term, but down the road may lead to disastrous outcomes.

Self-realization through deep introspection is a gift not many have unfortunately, and some may not possess the patience to engage in a prolonged mindfulness session. But regularly taking a step back and having a careful look at what we have become from our last ‘checkpoint’ in life helps keep the erosion in check, provided we are willing to minimize or eliminate it. Oftentimes we need to take this realization to a higher level, and guide those in similar situations to also learn to assess before committing. This, however, can be difficult if the problems identified in 4 and 5 above are at an unmanageable level. Skills like empathy and being able to put yourself in the others shoes becomes increasingly important to help the other person re-align themselves and be more in tune with who they actually are, along with having the courage to make regular course corrections.

Understanding who you truly are helps lay the foundation upon which you build your tower of higher levels of awareness. Without a solid foundation, or a foundation based on a patchwork of materials you pulled from all across the unfathomable interwebs, the resulting structure is destined to be unreliable. Instead, build a foundation on the experiences that truly define you, experiences that provided you valuable universal lessons, and the experiences of others that you can very easily relate to. This will eventually constitute your gut instinct, your prime engine to drive common sense, and a core set of values that you will compare everything against before making them a part of your ever growing tower of higher awareness and understanding. Never cease to doubt anything that comes your way.

On a more emotional level, understand what makes you insecure. Identify the trigger of your defense mechanism that keep you from being open, accepting, and tolerant. Being able to slowly peel away this layer of will eventually help you defragment your mind more easily. This does not mean to let yourself completely collapse, rather identify what defines you as an individual and use that as a starting point to move in a more favorable direction. Let go of the fear.

However, none of this implies that one must avoid taking risks and constantly fall back to the tried and tested. It’s more about taking measured calculated risks, and observing results at regular intervals to give sufficient space and time for corrections without completely abandoning the foundations upon which the most relevant pursuits are undertaken. Should none of it work, one must be willing and courageous to step back and take a different route, or the one that has already been verified. In the end, one should be mindful of the impact on one’s ‘ecosystem’ so to speak, and not just on our individual selves. Functioning purely for personal gain and making decisions in our own best interests erodes not only the system we are a part of, but erodes us as individuals, leaving behind a hollow shell into which anything can be poured at any time.

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