Discernment and "Common Sense"

In the Christian tradition, one of the qualities of someone who is purported to be wise is discernment. This quality implies that the individual can discern one thing from another without confusion or struggle. The idea is that someone who is wise is someone who is able to tell the good from the bad, the useful from the impractical, the truth from the lie.

Yet, in our profession, so many people seem to lack this quality, or lack what we could think of as common sense. They are out of touch with their senses, which reside only in the physical body, and which, when felt deeply and easily, act as the body’s guide to making the best choice. You can’t have a gut feeling if you are out of touch with your gut. You can’t have a feeling of bliss if your heart is closed. Feelings belong in the body as both sensation and movement. Sounds, smells and tastes, along with sight are the keys to our environment. They matter.

In a society, like ours, which lives primarily in the head (the mind is used more frequently than the body), it is easy to get lost. The mind tries to handle everything, without the body’s physical sensory feedback. That is an easy recipe for disaster. If you make decisions based on thought alone, you are just guessing and can guess wrong. If you make your choices based on how you read your body’s messages, your “sense of things” will help you stick to choices that are more reliable or safe.

Saying that someone should use her “common sense” is saying that she should do what most people would do in any particular circumstance, listen to her senses and follow the one that is most typical. Most people, when faced with a dangerous situation, feel fear. If you are standing on the edge of a cliff of high ledge and you do not feel fear, most people would be surprised. The “common sense” of standing there would be to be frightened. If you stand there and do not feel frightened, some would say that you had no common sense, particularly if you just happened to slip off the edge and meet your end. This is the situation that arises when we see amazingly dumb things on photos or videos and react with the words “what were they thinking”?

If you are going to follow someone’s advice and you cannot discern whether or not that advice is trustworthy, it would seem to be a good idea to take that advice with some good bit of skepticism, until you find that doing what was suggested has allowed things to improve and therefore, trust is actually warranted. If the advice strikes you as being silly or dumb or very hard to follow, it makes sense to be questioning about it. If it seems to you to be downright stupid, and you take it anyway, then you really have to be responsible if it doesn’t work. You have to blame yourself.

Therefore, I say to everyone, if someone tells you that you can learn to sing by moving your larynx to position C, does that make sense? If I say to you that you should squeeze your throat and press on it as hard as you can, and then you will be able to sing rock music, does that make sense? If I tell you to sing in such as way as to make your voice sound greatly distorted? If you are asked to disregard the feedback of your own throat and body, or not listen to yourself as you make sound, or told you that you need to do things that seem to be fatiguing and effortful, shouldn’t you be discerning enough to follow your common sense and see what’s wrong? If you are not in touch enough with yourself to recognize that something is “off” when it is, you will have trouble finding your way. If you are not used to dealing with your voice outside of speaking, as a singing student you are in a position to be easily manipulated by poor teaching.

If it feels bad and sounds bad, it is bad. If it feels confused and sounds ordinary, it is ordinary. If it makes you feel uncomfortable or you are unable to do what is asked, you need to recognize that and ask why. If you do not, you will soon get to be out of touch with your senses, and that will only make things worse.

There are times in life when we do things that don’t seem logical or sensible. It’s not always wrong to go in that direction. If it’s only a once in a while occurrence or if you deliberately choose to do something that is risky because you want to, then no one can tell you no. Just remember that when you are trying to learn something, discernment and common sense are useful tools.

Discernment and common sense are very important, perhaps more important that anything else in the life of an artist.

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