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Trent Benedetti: Is Common Sense Dead?

Common sense is almost synonymous with the history of our country. Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet by that name, first printed and sold in Philadelphia on Jan. 10, 1776. His pamphlet helped launch, and sustain, the American Revolution.

Paine directed his writing at the ordinary man, believing him capable of sound judgment regarding political issues. Once again, we have entered a political season. As has always been the case, common sense is needed. But in recent years, common sense seems to have become uncommon.

On March 15, 1998, Lori Borgman published an essay in the Indianapolis Star titled “The Death of Common Sense.” Was Borgman right? Or, is the demise of Common Sense something that Borgman exaggerated?

In the essay, Borgman said common sense deserved credit for “cultivating such valued lessons as to know when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm, and that life isn’t always fair.”

Apparently, Common Sense understood the importance of living within one’s means and putting something aside in anticipation of the inevitable rainy days; and, that reward requires long, hard work and even then, a little extra effort is sometimes necessary.

Common Sense also understood that an outcome could not be guaranteed. In fact, Common Sense understood the same to be true about opportunity. Yet, Common Sense continued to work hard and never begrudged others’ success.

Borgman wrote that common sense was overwhelmed by the “ravages of well-intentioned but overbearing regulations,” and rapidly deteriorated “as the Ten Commandments became contraband.”

Of course, the Ten Commandments became taboo only after prayer was expelled from public schools. No doubt Common Sense declined as these profound words from Abraham Lincoln faded from our memory: “… My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

As with all obituaries, Borgman included information about surviving members of the family. Going before were “parents, Truth and Trust … wife, Discretion … daughter, Responsibility; and … son, Reason.” Survivors included two step-brothers and one step-sister: My Rights, Only Me and Ima Whiner.”

Borgman’s essay makes a powerful point but, at the end of the day, we cannot abandon hope that common sense remains with us. An individual’s freedom to exercise common sense may be more limited today than it was when Borgman wrote, or certainly more limited than when Paine wrote. But we still enjoy a precious freedom; the freedom to vote as we choose.

If only we would exercise common sense by seeking truth for ourselves and refuse to accept another’s version of it. If only we would actively consider a version of President John F. Kennedy’s immortal words and ask what we can do to make things better for our neighbor rather than exclusively seeking what we think best for ourselves.

Perhaps common sense would have us disregard political party affiliations and, in particular, party endorsements? Party partisans tell you whatever they think you want to hear but, in reality, their only interest in what they think is good for their party. That is power. Elections must be won to achieve power. And all too often, that end — electoral victory — justifies whatever means were used to achieve it.

Perhaps common sense would lead us to make Lincoln’s greatest concern — to be on God’s side — our concern? All of us want to do what is right and not do what is wrong. But we are imperfect and routinely fall short. But as Lincoln said, God is always right. In God, we trust. Or should. Always.

That’s common sense. And it will never die.

— Trent Benedetti is a member of the board of directors of the Committee to Improve North County and a longtime local business owner. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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