I am often asked why this column is called “The Politics of Common Sense”. The short answer is that when I started writing this column in August 2011, the editor asked me to propose a title and it just tripped off my tongue. It was a modification of a disclaimer that I put in a speech that I wish I never had made.
Speaking through tears at the funeral of a dear friend, whose life was tragically cut short as she gave birth, I wondered how, in the 21st Century, a young and healthy woman could bleed to death in the maternity suite of a facility that called itself a hospital.
I denounced the people whose greed and short sight has condemned us to this fate and said that their judgment would come soon. Realising that this could be perceived to be a radical political statement, I qualified it by saying “This is not politics. This is just common sense!”
Over the last three years, I have endeavoured to deliver a weekly homily that brings out the absurdity of the persistent divergence between politics and common sense.
There is politics, good, bad and ugly, in everything that we do. It is everywhere and with us all the time. Politics determines where we are born, who we are, what we do, how we live, what we earn, when we die, how we die and where we are buried. We ignore it at our peril because as Pericles said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” Put another way, when you close your eyes, do you disappear?
If this column has been useful for something more than weekend entertainment, I hope it has delivered the message that politics need not be nasty, selfish, deceitful and adversarial.
When fused with common sense, politics is constructive and delivers peace, happiness and prosperity for all. I apologise if I have bored readers with the exhortation to “Get up, get out and do something!’. I was just trying to say that politics will not become sensible unless and until each one of us becomes constructively engaged.
I have written about the basic rights which we enjoy not because of anybody’s kindness or forbearance but because we are human beings. We must learn to guard them jealously and to speak out and act against the abuse of the rights of others, whoever they may be, so that somebody will speak out and act against the abuse of our own rights. But those rights do not exist in a vacuum. They come with legal and social obligations.
The discharge of these obligations is the small price that we must pay to live in a civilised society.
I have advocated for the reconfiguration of the state, so that it may work better in the interests of the native peoples of Africa.
I have written about the need for rational and lawfully established institutions, not as a criticism of any particular individual but because, as Jean Monnet, the father of the European Union, said, “Nothing is possible without men: nothing is lasting without institutions.”
If we want lasting peace, happiness and prosperity we must build solid institutions.
Perhaps more than anything else, I have written about the inevitability of change. We need to plan and get ready for it because, as Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter said: “Change is disturbing when done to us, exhilarating when done by us.” The soft reed which plans for and bends with the winds of change survives them while the unbending oak, which resists, is uprooted.
If this sounds like a farewell, it’s because it is. I have been walking this street for three years and now wish to explore other horizons. It’s time for change.
I may return, because one can never really say never, but until then, I say goodbye and thanks for everything.