Problematizing & The Trap of Assumptions

Common sense: noun. Sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence.
     Let’s think about this for a minute. What is “normal”? Who gets to decide what it is? How do we determine what is “normal” in today’s society? If something is common, does that make it normal?
Here’s the definition of normal: conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.
Okay… but what is “common”? What is “natural”? Who gets to decide what they mean?
     Do you see the cycle this creates? I wouldn’t be surprised if you were left with a lot of unanswered questions. We could do the same for “intelligence” and “practical”, or several of the other words in these definitions for that matter. Eventually, we will begin to understand what is problematic about these words. They all carry an ambiguity to them. Who gets to determine their meaning, and how is it determined?
Silhouette of a man in a business suit giving a shrug with a question mark
     Let’s start off talking about common sense. Why does this term exist in today’s society? Canada is a very multicultural and diverse country. We have a variety of different religions and/or cultures in this country. That being said, how can we all have a different belief system, for example, but are expected to have common sense? Why is it we assume that something is common sense; that everyone just ought to know what we mean. We generalize our knowledge as a society, under the impression that we all come from a common background, but the truth of the matter is we don’t. We don’t all come from the same cultural background or family upbringing. What may appear as “common sense” to one person, is a totally new concept to someone else.
     We have so many words in the English language that can be problematized. Now, what does this mean exactly? In a sentence it is critical thinking that allows us to pose certain knowledge as a problem. This then allows for new viewpoints and reflections to emerge, some of which we may have never thought about before.
I bet you can catch yourself saying, “You’re such a good friend.” or “That was awesome!” on a daily basis. I know I can. But… what do we mean by “good” and “awesome”? This is something we are discussing in my intro to music education class, and it is really challenging how I incorporate language into not just my written work, but my day-to-day life as well.
     Here’s a challenge for you (my prof, Cathy Benedict, has me doing this exact same thing): write down any sentences, words or anything your profs, friends, family or even you say that are problematic. Keep a journal of them and take a moment to think about why that word is problematic? Why did that person make this assumption? I’ve found some of my teachers saying things like “I’m sure you are all familiar with this, right?” Not only is that an assumption that this concept is common sense, but it’s also an impenetrable sentence. Ooo fancy word! In the words of Dr. Benedict, this only allows for people to agree with you because if you said “no” when everyone else was agreeing, you would feel uncomfortable and out of place. You are under the impression you must respond with a “yes”. 
     This is all quite fascinating once you start thinking about how our language can manipulate and distort reality. Although this may be a useful tactic in politics, it’s one to be on the lookout in your interactions.


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