Thursday, December 22, 2005

Common Sense- An Introduction

The concept of common sense is uniquely American, or so I have been told, and so I tell juries.

When in front of a jury, I rely heavily on the notion of common sense. Judges routinely provide instructions to juries that reference this term in one form or another. The reference is usually buried in an instruction relating to the jury's role in its decision-making process, and is stated along the lines of: "When deciding who to believe, you are instructed that you are not to set aside your life experiences, your common sense, etc." In courthouses throughout the country on this very day, juries are making important decisions based upon their collective notion of what constitutes common sense--common sense is thus integral to, for instance, dispensing justice. Accordingly, good lawyers make sure juries are equipped with arguments that are consistent with, reinforce, and (ideally) attempt to define this notion.

At this point in this post, blogging protocol tempts me to Google the term common sense, which undoubtedly would lead me to Thomas Paine, perhaps Oliver Wendell Holmes and others, but I am going to resist the temptation to do that.

Instead, and at the risk of missing the boat completely, I want offer what I have learned from juries about this concept. My view is that common sense is a close derivative of a view of human nature, i.e., it closely shadows one's view about what human beings are really like, not how we wish they might be. As one gets older, one learns more of and has more experience with different types of people. This leads, inexorably, to--at the very least--an implicit view of human nature. This, I think, is why the older one gets, the more "common sense" one usually possesses. An accumulation of life experiences with one's fellow human beings leads to a more developed view of human nature, and thus a stronger dose of common sense.

These conclusions are why I generally liker older jurors, especially those who have had a variety of life experiences. And this, ideally, is why bright younger people think they know everything and gradually realize they do not. It is a rare person who latches onto or backs into a worldview in their 20's and then learns nothing worthy of a change to that worldview thereafter.

Why does one's worldview inevitably change with the passage of time? Part of the answer is simply common sense.