What is the Difference Between Common Sense and Street Smarts?

Meaning of Common Sense and Street Smarts    

You’ve probably heard the terms “street smart” and “common sense” used interchangeably before, but are you aware of what these words mean? Having common sense and being street smart are both valuable, but there are some key differences to note.

Common sense is a natural human instinct whereas street smarts come from your experience. The difference between these two can be equated to nature versus nurture. Common sense is the instinctual ability you have to analyse a situation and make the best decision. Street smarts are gained through challenging life experiences.

When I refer to nature versus nurture in the context of this article, I am pointing out that some aspects of a person’s behavior are genetic, while other aspects are learned through experience. These concepts help differentiate having common sense from being street smart.

What is the difference between having common sense and having street smarts?

Common sense is practiced by the majority of people in their day-to-day functions. For example, employees most likely practice using common sense at their jobs often. If an employee runs into a situation that they weren’t specifically trained to handle but their supervisor is unavailable to oversee the situation, that employee will have to use their common sense to solve the problem. This means that the employee would use their best judgment and follow their instincts to come up with an appropriate solution. 

Most of us can agree that having common sense is a skill that everyone can develop. Although there are exceptions to this assumption, overall, most people have a degree of common sense regardless of their life experiences. Having street smarts, however, isn’t as common because it’s dependent on your life’s experiences.

A person who has lived a sheltered life will most likely have fewer street smarts than a person who has consistently encountered difficult challenges in their lifetime. Based on what a person has experienced in their past, they have learned lessons that benefit them in their day-to-day life. 

For example, if a person grew up in an area that had a high robbery rate, then they likely learned to be hyper-aware of their surroundings and to keep a watchful eye on their possessions. However, if a person grew up in a quiet, safe area with a low robbery rate then they most likely haven’t developed that instinct to be hyper-aware of their surroundings in the same way. The person who grew up in the area with high crime rates has developed this instinct based on their personal life experiences.

Examples of Common Sense vs. Street Smarts

Earlier I mentioned how the terms common sense and street smarts are often used interchangeably. It might be possible that sometimes when we tell people to use their common sense, we might be trying to tell people to use their street smarts. 

There are some additional distinctions between both of these types of intelligence. A street-smart person will also have common sense but a person with a high amount of common sense won’t necessarily have street smarts. A person can have incredible intuition and instincts when it comes to decision-making, but their environment may not have presented challenges that they had to learn to overcome.

For example, an employee is trying to calm down an angry, abusive customer without the help of their supervisor. The employee might come up with a solution simply using their instincts and best judgment, also known as common sense. However, the employee might instead come up with a solution based on something that they have experienced in their personal life. This employee could have grown up in an area where this angry behavior is a normal occurrence, so they know how to solve the problem. If an employee lives a sheltered life and has rarely had to interact with this sort of behavior, they will not be as effective at communicating with this customer even if they have a high level of common sense because they just haven’t dealt with it before. Most of us tend to assume that this situation can be resolved if the employee simply uses their common sense, but a lot can be said for street smarts in difficult situations like this.

There are some additional distinctions between both of these types of intelligence. A street-smart person will also have common sense but a person with a high amount of common sense won’t necessarily have street smarts. A person can have incredible intuition and instincts when it comes to decision-making, but their environment may not have presented challenges that they had to learn to overcome.

Similarities Between Street Smarts and Common Sense

A similarity between the two different types of intelligence is that they are both based on practical logic instead of emotion. Another similarity between street smarts and common sense is that each person has a different level.

For example, a six-year-old will have less common sense and most likely, street smarts than a thirty-year-old, simply because they have less life experience. Common sense is based on your instincts and even your experiences in the world. Street smarts are based on your lived experiences, so it’s safe to say that a child’s level of both of these would be lower than an adult’s.

Street smarts and common sense are both important skills to have for many reasons. Both of these types of intelligence keep us safe and stops us from making irrational decisions. People can reach the same conclusion using both of these types of intelligence. 

For example, a person could blow out a candle before leaving their house using their common sense or their street smarts. A person could realize logically before they leave their house that leaving a lit candle in their house unattended is unsafe based on their instincts. If a person decides to blow out a candle before leaving their house, because they remember a past experience where they left a candle unattended, this person is using their street smarts. Both people were able to reach the same necessary conclusion while using two different types of intelligence.

Over time people have started to see common sense and street smarts as skills that are just as important as book smarts. Unlike having common sense or being street smart, being book smart is based on academic intelligence. This is an excellent skill to have, but day-to-day life requires intelligence based on life skills and intuition as well. This is why common sense and street smarts are such a necessary type of intelligence for everyone to develop.

Differences Between Street Smarts and Common Sense

To sum up, street smarts and common sense are extremely similar but have a few key differences. The main difference being that street smarts are based on difficult life experiences that someone has been able to overcome. Whereas common sense is based on a person’s natural instincts, with their life experience being just one factor. Both of these types of intelligence are important for each person to have and develop, to succeed.

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