In 1776 Thomas Paine wrote a long pamphlet titled Common Sense in which he challenged the authority of the British government and the monarchy, making the case for separation of the American colonies from the crown. He wrote this for the general population of the colonies, and it was the first statement to openly call for independence.
Just as Paine fired the opening salvo in 1776 to wake the American colonists to the need to separate from England, today’s calls for reform are intended to rouse the American people to the urgent need to repair our broken government. In both cases, the message was (and is) directed to the people, not to a monarchy or a powerful elite in society.
The title Common Sense is equally apt for today because the characteristic we most urgently need is indeed common sense above all else: academic credentials or personal experience with our dysfunctional government are not required for you to participate in this grand work. We must not be intimidated by the “experts” but must move forward with confidence that our common sense will serve us well as we adapt our political system to the realities of today’s serious challenges. So don’t hesitate to jump in and let your voice be heard!
Yes, we are tackling a big job, but so did the colonists in 1776 and they gained their independence against all odds.
The closing paragraph in Thomas Paine’s pamphlet speaks to this point, and we might have written the same message today:
“These Proceedings may at first seem strange and difficult, but like all other steps
which we have already passed over, will in a little time become familiar and agreeable;
and until an independence is declared, the Continent will feel itself like a man
who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it
must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with
the thoughts of its necessity.”
In more modern prose, cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote this thought about change:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and concerned citizens can change
the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
Can we rise to the challenge and exercise our common sense to solve today’s difficult problems? The need is truly compelling, but by applying common sense to the problem we can find the way.