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  • Writer's picturebukytompa

Our Common Sense: The Felt Sense We Share

This is still one of my favourite videos:

On the topic of laughter, Australian writer and broadcaster Clive James said the following:

“…common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humour is just common sense, dancing.”

An interesting and very literal use of the expression ‘common sense’: literally ‘a sense that is shared, that is common to us.’ In this video, also dubbed ‘Bodhisattva on the Metro’, the initial common sense is dull, oppressive, depressive, and no doubt repulsive to anybody present or witnessing. But as that holy clown steps on the train, and begins laughing for seemingly no reason, everybody begins to laugh along without quite understanding why. But as we laugh (and cry) together with him, we also realize that there is no apparent reason why we should NOT laugh. This situation is ridiculous! Why be so serious?

Common sense, from this perspective, is what you and I are both aware of when we are together. Much like a bonfire in the centre, we both feed it and are affected by it, thus it is our shared creation. We come into connection with each other first with our cruder faculties: our physical senses of one another, preconceptions and pre-established notions about the other, and so on. However, if we prove trustworthy to one another, there is an opportunity to build a bridge between our subjectivities. This bridge is the first step toward intersubjectivity, or James’ common sense.

Some contributions to the common sense are obviously more evident than others: I may feel threatened, enticed, or repulsed by you. Others are much less discernible, and may begin to constitute the shared explicit: that which neither of us is willing to confess, the obscene, the ‘off-scene’. Among true friends, trusted others, and in good psychotherapy, nothing is too taboo to mention, and the other won’t shy away from our shadowy contribution.

To ignore the existence of common sense is alienating and equates, as far as I’m concerned, to interpersonal blasphemy. It can propel us into a paradigm where our feelings are unfelt and unrecognized by others, which may lead us to disown them or disbelieve in their existence, isolating us from our own sensitivity. In the words of D. W. Winnicott,

“It is a joy to be hidden and a disaster not to be found.”

This may be the reason why psychotherapy outcome studies continue to suggest that it is the relationship itself which is the most potent therapeutic ingredient in treatment. Heartfelt trusting connection is the living antithesis to alienation. Gravitating towards the shared fire of common sense, the preoccupations that cocoon and quarantine us become gradually more apparent to us, until we can eventually hope to dis-identify with them and rest in connection without any urge to flee it or sabotage it. And if there is a conception of contented living that I can conceive of, it is this: living while being open to inspire and be inspired by the common sense; albeit with the capacity for mature and intelligent discernment.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20

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