Common Sense

Common Sense

Common sense – what is it?  Everyone thinks they have it.  Governments try to legislate it.  Religions proclaim it as doctrine. Yet, sometimes I think I’m the only one that has it!

Even Noah Webster didn’t go very far out of his way when he chose to define it as “ordinary good sense or sound practical judgment.”  Perhaps he lacked common sense when he took on the project to give “meaning” to every word spoken in America in the 1820’s.  After twenty seven years of work and seventy thousand words later, of which twelve thousand had never appeared in a published dictionary before, Webster published An American Dictionary of the English Language.  There is certainly nothing “ordinary” about this accomplishment or “sound in judgment” that led him to mortgage his home to produce a second edition, leaving him in debt for the remaining years of his life.  In fact, he died with his life’s work still unrecognized, and Webster never knew how his common sense idea of giving meaning, spelling and usage to the language of this infant republic called America, would so change the world.

The patriot, Thomas Paine, in his 1776 Introduction to his infamous pamphlet, Common Sense, took note of the current political climate and resolved that common sense, while not immediately recognized, becomes more apparent as reality marches on:

“Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages,
are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor;
 a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong,
gives it a superficial appearance of being right,
 and raises at first a formidable outcry in [defence] of custom.
But tumult soon subsides.
Time makes more converts than reason.”

Paine recognized that at any given point in time, some of the people would have common sense and some would not.  It is interesting to note that Webster changed the spelling of the word, defence (British spelling) as used by Paine, to defense, as we use it today.  Did Webster just use common sense in making this change or was there some latent hatred of King George III that prompted this evolution?

In the current political climate, when it comes to defining common sense, it looks a lot like pornography to me!  In other words, I subscribe to the “I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it” school of thought.  This sophisticated analogy has been carefully developed through extensive viewing of the Sunday morning political talk shows in which the host (biased or unbiased) attempts to extricate both sides of the story on each issue.  The politicians go on-and-on but never actually answer the questions posed.  At the end of the day I’m left shaking my head.

Common sense — The liberals on the left do not have any.  The conservatives on the right are at least looking in the right direction. ♣