There are two things to remember about conventional wisdom.
The first thing to remember is that the wisdom is conventional. Meaning that it’s the perceived wisdom of the crowds, held tightly, based in a cascade of life experiences, in accordance with what is “generally” done or believed. Conventional means standardized.
The second thing to remember is that the wisdom isn’t really wisdom. Meaning that the wisdom of the conventional variety is based in theory (what we’d like our interactions in the world to be like) and belief (what we’d like to believe our interactions should look like), rather than good judgment, principles, or any species of scholarship, lore, or sophistication.
Conventional wisdom only works when it works. And when it doesn’t work, people who formerly relied upon its benefits (as a shortcut to not engaging, thinking, or developing other ways of looking at the world) are often confused and irritated.
There are no simple ways out of the trap of conventional wisdom, but here are a few ideas:
One of the simplest ways to overcome the thinking around conventional wisdom is to realize that common sense is no longer commonly held. With the fragmentation of American culture in particular (and global culture in general) the power that commonly held sense used to hold is now dissipating.
The other thing to recall is that defaulting to conventional wisdom gives people in power a “leg up” over you and your situation. When they are operating within the confines of decorum, manners, and other conventional wisdom tropes, they can’t move as quickly to be creative, thought provoking, or to generate new wisdom based in changed mores.
Wisdom—just like courage—is in short supply. And it always has been. Wisdom can’t be downloaded or Googled. It has to be lived. And separating wisdom from the confines of conventionality allows the parties with that wisdom to be more cautious when responding to change. But it also allows those with wisdom to be more impactful when change arrives.
Conventional wisdom is often based in laziness of thinking and lack of imagination and curiosity, rather than any species of patience. Patience is the province of the unconventional.
Conventional wisdom is the province of the crowds. And the crowds have been wrong before.
And they’ll be wrong again.