‘Common’ sense might have lost some meaning

“Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me in to!”

This was a frequent refrain heard from Oliver Hardy of Laurel and Hardy fame. Ollie would often blame Stan Laurel for their current predicament as they went about their schemes and foibles in their movies.

I spent a good deal of time watching their shorts and movies on television during my childhood.

I thought about this recently, as I considered the many foibles and schemes of our famous and not-so-famous fellow humans. And I wonder, is this what these people who find themselves in one difficulty or another are thinking? What are they thinking? Are they thinking?

I have seen the question posed any number of times, especially recently, in regard to the loss of common sense.

Have we, as a society and as individuals lost our common sense? First, let’s look at the term, common sense. Common would seem to refer to the idea that the thinking that makes up common sense is, well, common to most in society.

The word sense, of course, has so many meanings. In the meaning here, it seems to refer to the ability to recognize certain factors that allow a person to make decisions that are, at minimum, not going to endanger the person or any other person.

And I use the term endanger in a very broad manner — not just physical safety but social, psychological and spiritual safety.

So what are some examples of a lack of common sense? Many years ago, I had the occasion to talk with the CEO of Mantis Tillers about some warnings that were in their manual.

Along with some other warnings was one warning that people who were under the influence of alcohol should not operate the machine. It seems the courts had awarded two men substantial damages from Toro, the lawn mower company.

It seems these two men, after drinking quite heavily, had decided to use a Toro lawn mower as a hedge trimmer. When they lifted the running mower over their heads, one of them slipped and both suffered substantial injuries.

The court, citing the fact there was no warning in the manual, awarded the men damages from Toro. Never mind that neither man was likely to have read the manual or, if they had, would have heeded the warnings. Common sense? Absent.

Let’s look at the spate of politicians getting caught in lies about one thing or another while on the campaign trail. It seems many of them have been caught in lies about their military service. And most have been in the process of running for office. Did they not think about what would happen when, inevitably, the press or opposition would do some checking?

Again, I have to assume they simply did not think. And, again, common sense was absent.

And what about parents and other adults hosting alcohol or pot parties in their homes, so their children do not go out and “do this stuff” and then have to drive home? Even if they insist the children attending the party stay overnight, these are often nearly adult children who will sneak out in the middle of the night, have unprotected sex with one another, fight, etc.

And there is no science that would suggest either alcohol or cannabis is anything less than harmful to a young person’s brain. Common sense? Hardly.

So, where has this come from? Why do we seem to be losing common sense? Is this an inevitable consequence of a more advanced civilization? I really don’t think so.

We can blame the courts with their occasional seemingly nonsensical decisions. That might be part of the reason. Can we blame the TV shows like “Ridiculousness” and the “Dumbest” series? Or are they only imitating what is already going on? What about other TV shows that seem to depict lying and sexual infidelity as another part of life, neither good nor bad?

But we all must look inward. Are we behaving on a daily basis in a way that allows us to go through life proud of who we are? Can we take responsibility for the children in our care? Can we say we are pleased with how we conduct ourselves in public? Do we think before we speak or act?

Do we look at the long-term consequences of our actions, not just for ourselves but for others? When we behave personally, professionally and in the public sphere using these guidelines, then I think we will see the return of common sense, despite what is decided by the courts and what appears on TV.

Jim Matthews of Greenfield is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.