Charlie's Blog: Embracing Sensibility


Embracing Sensibility

Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.

I know two people who live very different lives. One person is an outdoor enthusiast who loves hiking and sleeping on the ground in uncomfortable temperatures and weather. The other person enjoys a cigar and a glass of whiskey while watching sports on TV in the comfort of a climate controlled home. I wondered to myself which person was living the better lifestyle, but I concluded that neither got it right because they were living at the extremes. The better path was somewhere in the middle. This would be taking daily walks outside and sleeping in a warm bed at night. Sensibility is the name I give to this middle path.

Sensibility is just common sense. It is one part the Golden Mean of Aristotle and the other part the horse sense of the common man. The opposite of sensibility is extremism. People like extremism because extremism does not require thinking. There are no judgment calls to make with extreme ways. Sensibility requires thought and fine distinctions. Thinking is hard which is why people don't like to think. And this is why common sense is uncommon.

A great example of this extremism in action has been the popularity of minimalism as a lifestyle. This extreme action is seen as the antidote to the extreme that preceded it which is known variably as hoarding, consumerism, and maximalism. So, people chose to replace one error with another. They expunged their living spaces of all decoration and personality in favor of monochromatic color schemes and sterile emptiness. The obsession for more turned into the obsession for less.

The sensible path would be decluttering. Decluttering is not a destination like minimalism but a process. A great way to declutter is to practice a daily declutter where you get rid of one unnecessary thing each day. It may be as small as donating a book you read or a book you will never read. Or, it can be as big as getting rid of that sea kayak in the garage that never touched water or the woodworking tools you never used. Decluttering requires thought and deliberation which are hard. You have to think intentionally about what you own and what you buy and be real with yourself. By decluttering, you avoid the extreme of a cluttered home and also the opposite extreme of an empty home.

The minimalist trend began as a response to the housing bubble crisis from a decade ago. Once upon a time not so long ago, people bought sensible homes. These homes were 2000 square feet or less and possessed what was necessary for a civilized lifestyle. Then, people decided they wanted to live in McMansions which they couldn't afford with more rooms and amenities than they needed. When this mad craze came to a crash, many of those freshly homeless people went to the opposite extreme by moving into tiny homes that many built themselves and allowed you to share kitchen space with a composting toilet. This tiny living might be better than living on the street, but people need sensibly sized homes. Why not live in a modest and sensible home like they used to do?

Fads are extreme responses. In the 1950s, people were slim compared to today. They did not drink diet soda or count calories. They ate hamburgers, hot dogs, bacon, and eggs washed down with Coke and milkshakes. How did they remain slim eating this crap? I think the real culprits behind expanding waistlines were the car and the television set. People stopped moving, and this was bad.

The response to the extreme of the sedentary lifestyle was the opposite extreme of running. People thought the antidote to the couch was to go run a marathon. The marathon became the Ironman and the ultramarathon. No middle ground existed between the couch and a race.

The sensible alternative is to go out for walks. Walking was the sort of thing people were doing before the running boom without even thinking about it. In places like New York City where walking is common, people don't have issues with their weight and fitness. The irony of the running boom is that studies are now indicating that running at a high pace is bad for your health. This article in Prevention pointed out that runners have the same risk of death as their sedentary counterparts, and those running more than 25 miles per week were no better off than people who spent that time on the couch. Yet, walking has proven health and longevity benefits in comparison to intense exercise or being sedentary.

Walking is the common sense solution to the problems that come from a sedentary lifestyle. Yet, many walkers are haunted by "failed runner syndrome." The extremist mindset is so endemic in our culture that people who know better or should know better feel as if they are failures. How is being smart a failure? Running is bad for you, and you are better off for giving it up in favor of walking.

Extremist mindsets are difficult to shake. When the herd is going in the other direction, it can leave you with a loss of confidence and feeling lost. The antidote is to acknowledge and accept that sensibility is the path of the few that find it. Ironically, sensibility has an influence on others. Seeing a better way is usually all it takes for others to want to take that way, too.

Sensibility is the common sense path between extremes. It would be nice if people found this sensibility and eschewed extremism. They could save themselves some money, discomfort, and trouble. But the reality is that the most revolutionary thing you can do in our culture of extremes is to embrace sensibility and live by the dictates of common sense. Living a normal life is the most uncommon thing you can do today.