Personal responsibility and the death of Common Sense

I am not usually one for these circular emails, but I received one today that made me smile a little.

We live in a world in which councils rip out public art because they are concerned people will climb on it, fall off and then sue; where teachers are castigated by parents for the indiscipline in class-rooms, yet are prevented from any physical contact to restrain or assist children in case they are sued; where local residents tell me that Council employees have warned them not to grit footpaths to help make them safer because if someone slips, the resident who did it is liable; and where people seem determined to ensure that as well as blaming someone else for their idiocy or misfortune, they are also allowed to profit from it.

This latter point is one that irks me most.

The ever-present threat of litigation undermines the need to ensure that serious failings of responsibility are properly and swiftly reviewed and, if appropriate, recompensed. At the same time, to minimise the chances of being sued, play equipment is removed, public art is pulled out and fenced off, and life loses its spiky richness. Much  more dangerously, it allows those who are absolutely opposed to the concept of fundamental human rights to hijack the discussion of responsibility and blame a compensation culture increasingly characterised by lack of personal responsibility on the Human Rights Act or simply “Europe”. It is mendacious politicking at its insidious worst: using people’s misinformed fears to further reinforce those fears and, by so doing, undermining necessary protections for the weak, the vulnerable and those who find themselves in a persecuted minority.

So don’t get me wrong.

There are plenty of times when blame should be very squarely apportioned on the shoulders of someone else or – more usually – some other organisation. However, there are also far too many excuses for our own inability to follow the instructions we are given and our failure to use the judgement that life’s experiences have given us.

It’s corny, trite even, and there’ll be plenty who’ll simply groan and roll their eyes. But maybe a few will agree that it’s worth a little reflection. I don’t agree with all of it (I want to make that clear before I get a liberal backlash!). I do, though, think that in its own, gently humorous way it captures  a sentiment shared privately by many people, in all walks of life: one that contains at least a degree of truth and that requires a common sense political response.

Anyway, I doubt the author or the person sent me this was expecting me to take it so seriously!

Common Sense – an obituary

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:

  • Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
  • Why the early bird gets the worm;
  • Life isn’t always fair;
  • And maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge). His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate, teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch, and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student, but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the religious organisations became businesses – and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot.  She spilled a little in her lap and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.  Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust, by his spouse, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son, Reason.

He is survived by his four stepbrothers; I Know My Rights, I Want It Now, Someone Else Is To Blame and I’m A Victim.

Not many attended his funeral because so few realised he was gone.

If you still remember him, pass this on.  If not, join the majority and do nothing.

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