Being smart doesn't mean having common sense

My son is home from college for the summer. He has a 4.0 at a good private school. He is on track to have his masters in five years.

We asked him to do some yard work which he gladly agreed to. In the mean time I went to the grocery to pick up things to make dinner.

As I’m picking out an onion I get a call from my wife’s phone… but it is my son on the other end of the call in a panic. When he went out he decided to set his phone on the trunk of the car that I took to the grocery. It was in the garage, with several shelves on any side of the car. As far as I know… short of an earthquake or tornado shelves usually don’t move. Unfortunately the car does. He found it about six blocks away and it looks like it had been driven over several times. For a moment he tried to blame me for not doing the “pre-flight walk around” but even he admitted that was kind of hard to say with a straight face.

I’ll probably help him out because I’m soft like that, but this will be the most expensive mulch I’ve ever had spread.

When Dungeons & Dragons players ask how to roleplay a character with a high Intelligence score but low Wisdom, this is the sort of example I think of.

Thirty years or so ago my sister moved to a city several states away. I decided to go visit and she was kind enough to send me a hand drawn map that was fairly detailed. I got close and pulled out her map (this was way before the days of GPS) and had no idea where to go… nothing lined up. Eventually I figured out that North on her map was in the lower left hand corner.

She graduated summa cum laude.

My ex-wife is a smarty too. She’s one of these types that can watch Jeopardy and answer the questions"Groundhog’s Day" style.

This was back when mobile phones were still becoming a thing. I had finally talked her in to getting one. The problem was, every time I tried to call her it would go straight to voice mail. I had to explain to her, just because you’re not using the phone, that doesn’t mean you turn the phone off. Otherwise, you won’t be able to receive calls.

Your wife is indeed smart and has common sense, Grrr!

My parents both had/have (my father is deceased, my mother isn’t), and were/are both very smart college professors. My father spoke three languages, and read Latin and Hebrew; my mother speaks eight languages (several from the same language family) and reads Latin and Old Church Slavonic. My father also knew several computer programming languages, and knew higher math pretty well. My mother is at home in undergraduate level chemistry and physics. She is a dialectologist who can do “Henry Higgins,” and tell you where you grew up based on your manner of speech, whether you are from the US or a Slavic country, or a native Yiddish speaker.

My father was chock-full of common sense; my mother isn’t. My mother isn’t totally clueless, but she is really technology impaired, and also has zero gaydar. I had a gay babysitter when I was about 8. My father knew right away, and my mother had no idea until she ran into him about ten years after the fact, and he started talking about his “partner.” She knew he was a tennis player, and thought he was talking about tennis partner. Later, when she found out my father knew the guy was gay and hadn’t told her, causing her embarrassment in a chance meeting 10 years later, she got mad at him. He just kind of rolled his eyes.

My husband left his expensive phone in a cab. That ended up being a mighty pricey cab ride as well. It happens.

I’ve met quite a few people who I considered generally smarter than me, who have trouble travelling south because it means they have to try to read text on a paper map upside down.

I am a really good example of this.

A classic ‘‘me’’ story is when I was travelling in Greece and wanted to get something to commemorate the trip. My husband and I were getting dressed in our room. I was thinking of buying something Athena-themed, because, I said thoughtfully to my husband, ‘‘I do value wisdom.’’

It was then I looked down and discovered I had put my pants on inside-out. Fully buttoned. Pockets flopping out and everything. I don’t think we’ve ever laughed so hard in our lives.

Take it from a fellow idiot. The best your son can hope for is to maintain a sense of humor about it. Not everyone has had the unique experience of being both the smartest and dumbest person in the room at the same time. He’ll stay humble.

There is an inverse relationship between book smarts and common sense.

My friend, who of course is quite intelligent, had his basement flood recently. His wife sent him to the laundromat with a ton of damaged clothes while she stayed home and worked to salvage what she could.

He’s gone for 3 hours, then 4, then 5. She’s growing concerned. She calls him on his cell. ‘I’m almost done’, he says, ‘the last load is going into the dryer’.

It turns out that while she was working her ass off to get the basement back to normal, he was sitting in a near-empty laundromat, doing one load at a time.

It had never crossed his mind to use more than one machine.

Maps are a whole different kettle of fish. I think I’m pretty book smart and I’ve always had some difficulty with spatial orientation. I read the book “Inner Navigation” a few years ago and it was a fascinating read, and I am convinced some people are just born with internal compasses, and a very good internal map. How else can I explain my SO who never drove on Long Island (where he grew up) but still has all of the routes, etc., memorized, and always knows which way is east.

I am medium level at maps and directions and that’s through dint of training and paying attention. The city I live near, Albany, is great, because there’s a river so the river is always east or southeast. It really messes me up when I have to be on the other side of the river for some reason - to the point I really think of this as the “good” side of the river.

So spatial orientation is a big differential.

In case you mean this seriously, I feel obliged to point out that it’s not (always) true (see RivkaChayah’s post for example, or the readily available examples of people without book smarts who don’t seem to have much common sense either). I think claims like this are used as an excuse by people who have one but not the other. “Common sense” includes things like thinking about what you’re doing, thinking about the possible consequences of your actions, trying to think of better ways to do things—and none of these are things a person with book smarts can’t do, or that a person without book smarts necessarily will do.

It took me forever to figure out you don’t have to rewind DVDs.

I don’t mean it seriously and obviously it wouldn’t be a universal rule. It’s just to illustrate the difference between wisdom and knowledge, they can exist independently in some people, and when we notice a person who has disparate levels of both it’s because the difference is glaring.

Credentially stupid. My BIL is that way. Has about 3 graduate degrees, went to an up east private school, all sorts of career advancement courses and seminars and he can’t remember to put film in the camera or water in the coffee pot.

My experience with people that talk about others lacking common sense is that they are just super judgemental people trying to fluff up their own ego. Everybody has a lapse of judgement in their life. I’ve never met a single person that hasn’t done something that is “duh, smacks forehead” level stupid, but it’s not representative of their general level of “common sense.” Yet, somewhere, somebody out there is going to use that lapse as some proof that they are better, smarter, more grounded, or whatever, just to patch their tired, sad little ego.

I know someone with at least one PhD, and when their car got scratched, they grabbed the nearest can of flat black spray paint and “touched up” the damage. Fortunately, a friend of theirs with only an MA was able to buff the paint off the otherwise well-waxed surface.

And years ago, my brother with a Master’s degree in engineering was sent off to get something like tomato fertilizer. They came back with rose “dust” (not sure they even sell it any more - it’s pesticide powder in a cardboard pump tube) instead of fertilizer. No idea what the thought process was there other than “Something from the garden section.”

I’m not above stupid goofs either. A few years ago, I managed to incapacitate a major auto maker’s finance system for a couple of hours with a misplaced period.

My brother is like this. He can go someplace he’s never been before once and be able to find that place again months or years later.

My Aunt is an expert map reader and knows where she is at all times. Last weekend, she navigated five hours on our vacation with no GPS and the occasional glance at a map. Once she’s been to a place once, she never forgets how to get back. However, in the rare instances she loses track of where she is, she starts to panic.

I think it’s hilarious because being lost is my perpetual state of being. I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know. I accepted a long time ago that being lost is an inevitable reality of my life. I just follow the people I know around and trust they know what they’re doing.