Common sense is a pretty hot commodity. It’s not hard to think of someone who doesn’t have it and those who do are constantly sought out for their advice. I’m willing to bet that a lot of people reading this article are those people. The unfortunate thing about common sense is that it’s often derived from ‘folk’ wisdom or ‘conventional’ wisdom. When this happens, you have situations that lead to confusion. Let me start with an example that blew my freaking mind:
I bet you have. At least if you’re from a westernised country. What does it mean? And don’t go off and Google it. Please allow me the pleasure of rocking your world. Family (your blood ties) are more important and stronger (thicker) than your other relationships (water). Makes sense right? First of all, blood is more viscous than water, so literally that’s true. But it makes logical sense too (kinda, although one wonders where the ‘water’ bit came from) right? What would you say if I told you that in various times and places throughout history the meaning of the saying has been totally inverted and makes even more sense? ‘The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb’ is thought to be one of the most likely candidates for the origins of the saying. This could mean that the friendships formed in battle or by blood sacrifice are stronger than the relationships you have with your mother (and by extension, the family). Or the same expansion of the phrase might refer quite literally to the Catholic belief of Jesus’ blood binding one into the covenant (laws) of their religion. It’s also thought by some that this original meaning was altered by the German phrase ‘the blood of kin cannot be spoiled by water’ which isn’t surprising when it looks like this; ‘blut ist dicker als wasser‘. Almost makes you think you can speak German. Or perhaps the phrases developed concurrently. No one really knows, but the point is, at various times and in various places the same phrase has meant qualitatively different things. Mind blown? I hope so.
So what am I getting at? Well, that basically, conventional wisdom isn’t always so wise. Consider these phrases;
- the pen is mightier than the sword
- opposites attract/similarity breeds contempt
- absence makes the heart grow fonder
All super common sayings that we generally take for granted, I’m sure. You know what other sayings we take for granted?
- actions speak louder than words
- birds of a feather flock together
- out of sight, out of mind
It’s enough to destabilise one’s orbit around the world. Makes you wonder just how many platitudes out there contradict each other or have changed from their original meaning or are used out of context. This particular issue is known as ‘hindsight bias’; someone you trust says something that general enough and your brain will immediately recognise all the ways it makes sense and probably believe it if it’s not too against your values. And that is my point. That’s the point of this website. That is the whole point of psychology. To study this kind of thing when it relates to human behaviour and inform us of the truth. And even then it’s not always accurate, because a scientific truth is never a fact but simply a theory (a hypothesis) that has not yet been proven false. But it’s as close as we’re going to get. So I encourage you, whether you’re giving or receiving advice, to seek out the sources and get to the scientific truth.
As for which quote is ‘right’, well similarity is often considered one of the three principles of attraction, and in fact recently personality has been found to be a leading contributor. The others (and many more like it) have proven rather vexing for scientists to answer in any simplistic way. The answer unfortunately appears to be that each of these statements are true given the right circumstances. So don’t settle for common sense because ‘common’ doesn’t always mean right and rarely are things so simple.
Interested in a theory on winning arguments that’s so simple it’ll blow your mind again? Or perhaps you’d be interested in an article about the surprising reason people might be shutting you down? Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and ‘the good life’ at The Dirt Psychology.
Thumbnail image courtesy of @fgr62 (Flickr)