“Common sense is genius dressed up in work clothes.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Ralph Waldo Emerson lived in the 19th century. While I don’t know exactly when this quote was written, it was somewhere between 130 and 160 years ago. I tend to think that the lack of common sense I see in the world is something new, but here was Emerson writing about it nearly a century before I was born.
Common sense is not common practice in the world. I can pick up a newspaper any day of the week and find examples of people who, in my mind, just didn’t apply common sense to a situation. It can come in many forms, there are people who dogmatically follow a prescriptive rule and narrowly interpret it. There are people who overthink something and end up trying to have a very complex solution to very simple problems. There are people who cannot understand why things happen to them, who cannot take one step back and see a slightly larger picture. These and others are examples in my mind of a lack of common sense.
Presently my personal favorite when it comes to the absence of common sense are “zero tolerance” policies. These are usually instituted in schools with the lofty goal of protecting children. There are zero tolerance policies for drugs, weapons, violence and the like. When presented to parents in the handbook, or when touted in the press, they all seem very noble. Of course we don’t want schools to tolerate drug use, violence or weapons. It’s easy to get rallied around the concept. But often the application of these rules seems to boggle a mind that uses common sense.
There are stories of 5 year old children being disciplined and suspended for pointing a finger in a way that might resemble a gun. These are cited as violating the zero tolerance policy for weapons. Really? A 5-year-old’s finger is a weapon? This stretches my common sense.
Elementary school students have been suspended for giving each other M&Ms and pretending that a particular color would boost your super powers. Harmless child’s play? No, illicit drug use.
A 16-year-old has a butter knife in the back of his truck. Did the school assume maybe he had spread cream cheese on a bagel? No, they assumed it was a weapon and suspended him.
I could go on. There are countless examples of children literally being hauled away in handcuffs for ridiculously innocent acts. Are these schools using common sense? I don’t think so. I think they are using a rigid set of rules to take the place of the normal brain activity that would be required to engage some common sense.
Schools are not the only place where common sense seems to take a vacation. Every day, on every street there are examples. The point I am making is this. When common sense leaves the building, uncommonly odd things creep in the back door.
I am sure there are things I do in my life that fail the common sense test. There are times when I over think, or under think a situation to the point that someone watching would believe that I had shut off my brain. When I catch myself in these situations, I am embarrassed and try to correct them. At the end of the day I know that I need to be ever vigilant to places where I make these kinds of mistakes.