For many of us these days, making sense of certain human behaviors seems to defy common sense. In fact, common sense doesn’t seem very common anymore. But was common sense ever very common? Before slavery was abolished, was it very common? Before women had won the right to vote, was it very common?
An old friend of mine was fond of reminding me that “motive is everything” and that it’s difficult to discern people’s intentions. And then there’s Ambrose Bierce’s definition of politics as: “A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”
I think the marketing of some version of common sense—in order to capture common ground or build consensus, if not merely alignment—on any issue facing our world today is the essence of what politics is all about. No matter what the hidden motive or intention may be.
Today, as in days gone by, the art of scapegoating is alive and well. Seems to me that we have become even more stealth-like and sophisticated when it comes to judging, blaming, and not taking responsibility for our own thoughts, words, and deeds.
Even though my mother was a Holocaust survivor, I still grew up being called disrespectful names. We could give many examples of man’s inhumanity to man.
Religious persecution; class segregation; racism; and just plain hate, fear, or ignorance have plagued humanity for as long as we can remember. Yet by some estimates, by 2044, minorities of every persuasion will be the new majority in our country. So one way or another, I believe we will eventually come to our common senses to embrace the necessity of a common ground that advances our common good.
We are blessed with a belief in free speech, yet we find it so easy to attack another person for their use of words, rather than having a truthful civil conversation about content, context, and meaning.
I’m reminded of the parable telling the story of a handful of blind men each touching a different part of an elephant. They ended up arguing over what they were experiencing without the benefit of having the whole picture before formulating their opinions. This is especially worrisome these days with so many of us relying on sound bites for framing our own points of view.
As with most creatures living on earth, we tend to do better at getting along and communicating with individuals who belong to our own “intra” group, organization, or system. We meet our needs for community, opportunity, and safety within our own political parties, faith-based organizations, and belief systems.
By the turn of the 20th century our world population had grown to 1 billion. The last hundred years or so has ramped up our numbers to some 7 billion. It would seem to me that time is of the essence for how we rebalance our capacity to be better at “inter” connecting with all of our separate factions.
Nature provides us with various examples or blueprints of what we might try aspiring to, as creatures who have been given a consciousness that goes far beyond mere instinct alone. One of my favorite examples is the human body: a magnificent system unto itself. Created from the fewest of cells, it evolves into a world made up of trillions of cells. While all of these cells share characteristics in common, they remain unique and diversified unto themselves and within their own intra-group communities. There are groups of cells working together within organs like the brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs. And then these organs work together in groups or systems like the cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous, digestive, and endocrine systems.
At every level of increasing complexity—be it an individual cell, cells that are a part of a specific group, groups working together within a system, or systems working together as a body—they go about their daily business relying on their interconnectivity and interdependency. When everything is functioning well, we have a strong constitution; our body is thriving and resilient. Without much thought on our part, our individual cells are very good at living united. Though our organs are substantially different, fortunately for us they know how to coexist.
So what’s the glue that holds a healthy body together? I’ve come to think of it as unselfish service, love, or maybe even the Golden Rule. What inspires me to think like this is the consequences of a selfish cell. That type of behavior we may know as malignant. For various reasons, a cell loses interest in cooperating, collaborating, communicating, and coordinating with what’s in the best interest of the body as a whole.
So how do we human beings learn to get along, no matter our station in life, as effectively and efficiently as the cells of our body are capable of doing?
It’s difficult to imagine everyone sharing the same political or religious beliefs any time soon. So, is there anything we can have in common besides just meeting our biological needs? To me, how we go about meeting our social and emotional needs may be the other vital factor.
One of my suggestions requires a conviction that “character counts.” I believe that when adults live by the “Six Pillars of Character,” our children will grow up better adept at being trustworthy, responsible, respectful, fair, caring, and engaged citizens.
This is the season when we find a wish or a prayer for “Peace on Earth” on many holiday cards. Perhaps “Peace on Earth” would have a better chance if those “Six Pillars of Character” became our glue, our foundation for finding common ground and for living united. I believe that one day this will become common sense, and I am truly grateful for that.
Rick London lives in Nipomo. Send comments through Editor Camillia Lanham at firstname.lastname@example.org.