Merriam-Webster dictionary defines common sense as sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of a situation or facts. Part of the challenge of applying that definition of common sense is determining how a situation is perceived. In the past several years, the distortion of facts and distrust of what is claimed to be real and true has pushed many toward pessimism and disillusionment.
Thomas Paine (1736-1809) was an English-born American Founding Father and wrote his most famous pamphlet, Common Sense, in 1776. Its clear and simple language made its arguments accessible to the average person and it became a sensation, selling over 500,000 copies in a few months. Its main premise was that the American colonies should declare independence from Great Britain. Today, almost 250 years later, we can affirm the value of his simple and honest approach that not only included common sense but influenced the independence of our country. In this brief article, I thought it important to first cover why common sense is important, then how we can apply it to our lives and businesses.
Why is Common Sense Important?
The value of common sense has become more relevant to me as more and more people I talk to have turned off the news and even started to ignore social media. What is truthful and sensible? And what is just craziness? When those two dichotomies become hard to distinguish, I feel it’s time to back up and take a look at where we are.
Whether liberal, conservative, for or against the running political dialogue of the day, common sense is timeless in its effect. I read the 1932 book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley in high school. It was required reading in my English class. The message seemed outlandish at the time, but that message today with a society that places conformity and efficiency above individuality and personal experience has infiltrated our lives. Another book I read was 1984, published in 1949 by George Orwell which is a powerful warning about the dangers of totalitarianism and the importance of preserving individual freedom and autonomy. Again, it seemed far-fetched at the time but is no longer.
Now I see both of those books more relevant today than any time in history. I felt it was important for me to focus on the basic elements of common sense then share it with my listeners to hopefully sort through perceptions and so-called facts. The following four elements apply both personally and professionally.
One: Be Practical and Perceptive
King Solomon, the third and last king in the ancient United Kingdom of Israel, reined for forty years from about 970 to 931 BC. He desired and pursued wisdom most of all and his good judgment not only helped him become a good ruler but brought he and his nation wealth. As an example, when two mothers living in the same house came to Solomon with their infant sons, (I Kings 3:16-28) one of the sons had been accidently smothered and died.
When both mothers claimed the living child was theirs, Solomon perceived the true mother would allow no harm to come to the child. He declared the baby would be cut in two and each woman would receive half. This statement caused one of the women to relent. She would give the child to the other woman. But Solomon knew the true mother would not allow the child to be killed, so the child was given to that woman. It was practical, perceptive and very wise. He had identified the problem clearly but also perceived the heart of the lying woman.
Two: Be Simple
I recently walked into the Lego store in Anaheim’s Downtown Disney where the entrance is flanked by huge Lego models of a dragon and Disney character. I was pleasantly surprised to see the variety and scope of products from small Lego floral arrangements to the large Millennium Falcon. I knew the company had faced declining sales and intense competition from electronic toys in the early 2000s so I was fairly impressed.
At that time, Lego refocused on its core products and values, then introduced new projects like the Mindstorms robotics kit. The Mindstorms kit includes electronic components which include sensors, motors and even a programmable brick to control the robot’s behavior. However, still at its base are Lego building blocks, which are simple at their core.
In my book Stop Circling, I included an appendix chapter on Core Values. I state how those values will provide the stability in resetting one’s course. It’s a simple and direct principle, yet one that is often forgotten. Renaming a product or movement does little to change the actual outcome if not reflecting a strong premise at its core. The simple straightforward solution in defining a core mission or value is often what will bring most favorable results.
Three: Distinguish Truth from the Absurd
One of the aspects of comedy is the intense exaggeration of some sort of characteristic, such as emotions or personality traits. Comedy also includes observational humor which highlights the absurdity or humor in mundane situations. In the past couple years particularly, lines have been blurred with absurd situations that hardly seem real at the forefront of our news feed.
ESCAPE YOUR ROUNDABOUTS !
The Babylon Bee is the largest American right-wing satire website that thrives off parodying the news of the day. They have tens of thousands of paid subscribers, over a million YouTube subscribers and get over 25 million page views each month. Seth Dillion, CEO, said today they are struggling to come up with joke headlines. He quotes “We found that the world is very difficult to satirize right now because it’s so insane.” The Onion, founded in 1988, is another satirical new publication that parodies real stories and events. I would suspect they are facing the same issue.
And about truth, Mark Twain quotes, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” That is, you don’t have to remember who you told the last lie to!
Four: Be Brief and Clear
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is a 47-page pamphlet. This is the size of some people’s bios. Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” I remember when one of our sons started to work an attorney was told to cut ten words down to five. Then if possible, cut even more.
I have found it’s much harder to be brief than wordy in my writings. When working on the book rewrites of my musicals Stiltz and Tsarina, I found it very difficult to cut scenes or dialogue as I liked what I wrote! Even harder were cutting songs that didn’t move the story forward enough. But I learned how important it was for performance and for clarity of the story. To say something succinctly and clearly will have more impact than drawing a point out so far that when completed, you can’t remember the main point of the dialogue and neither can your listeners.
These are not the only elements of common sense but hopefully will help to create a launching point to distinguish what is logical and the best path forward. Many have followed paths that may have not have made sense at first, but usually much thought and calculation in determining outcomes and results has been behind those choices. I encourage all of us to not be afraid to take an honest look at common sense or we may continue down the path to a greater insanity with very little satire needed.
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Part of the challenge of applying that definition of common sense is determining how a situation is perceived.
Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author
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