Common sense seems to be in short supply these days. Well, on second thoughts maybe it has always been in short supply. A quick glance through history, recent and further back, will show that all the major crises in the world have happened for the want of common sense. The Oxford dictionary gives us little help over what this actually means – except to say that it is good, practical, sense. In other words it is what works best in a given situation. But this also implies a middle way, a compromise, and many would be suspicious of what sounds rather like a liberal muddle. My belief is that if people trusted their common sense more, the world would be a better place – but sadly it is usually lost between the firmly held beliefs of two extremes.
I have recently been watching episodes of MASH. It is still brilliant and hasn’t dated at all and has a mixture of black humour and heart-rending tragedy. What it does bring home so clearly is that a war is being waged without any good, practical sense from either side and consequently allowed to continue for far too long, with tragic results. This has basically been the same for all wars, particularly WW1 where the generals and politicians seem to have completely lost their senses for four long years. In the very first year of that war, however, there was an outbreak of common sense which shows that humans are capable of the most extraordinary actions when it does prevail. On Christmas Day 1914, the gunfire stopped and both armies climbed out of their trenches. Germans and English shook hands, played football, showed photographs of home and buried their dead with dignity. It lasted a day and then the carnage re-started. Common sense did not prevail again until November 9th 1918. Few wars make any sense at all and often happen almost by accident, when humans have lost the very idea of common sense.
Obviously it is not only wars that require common sense to be applied Recently I have been trying to make a suggestion that would ease the present housing crisis. We have miles of rivers and waterways in England. Along these could be put floating homes and houseboats, which are both cheap to build and also have the advantage of having no flood risk, as the boats just rise with the water level! All that is needed is for residential moorings to be installed, along with a law which gives them parity with tenants of land-based housing. It would make total, practical sense for the councils to provide these moorings and for the politicians to change the law, but for some reason nobody will listen. Instead of this common sense solution, houseboat owners are left to the mercy of private landlords, who knowing the scarcity of moorings can demand sky high rents. Also there is no security of tenancy, so these landlords can enforce their rules in a ruthless fashion with no fear of arbitration. Someone needs to take action and common sense in this needs to prevail.
This is such a wide subject that examples could go on all day. Nearer to home and on a more personal level are the domestic arguments, where common sense seldom takes priority! But there are always more difficult issues. In Ian McKewan‘s brilliant novel The Children Act, the high court judge has a terrible dilemma when making a decision about Siamese twins. Two baby boys are so joined that survival is only going to be possible for one of them. If they are left joined they will both die. The parents, because of religious views, are adamant the twins should not undergo an operation, but nature should be left to take its course. The doctors on the side of common sense, are adamant that the one child should be saved. In the end, common sense did prevail. The operation was done and one life was saved. However, in making this judgment the judge was haunted by the fact that one baby had, in her words, been murdered.
So while being necessary, common sense is not always easy to apply!