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From: Common Sense How To Exercise It

One of the principle advantages of common sense is that it protects the
man who is gifted with it from hazardous enterprises, the risky character
of which he scents.

Only to risk when possessing perfect knowledge of a subject is the sure
means of never being drawn into a transaction by illusory hopes.

An exact conception of things is more indispensable to perfect success
than a thousand other more brilliant but less substantial gifts.

"However," says Yoritomo, "in order to make success our own, it is
not sufficient to have the knowledge of things, one must above all
know oneself.

"On the great world-stage, each one occupies a place which at the start
may not always be in the first rank.

"Nevertheless, work, intelligence, directness of thought and, above all,
common sense, can exert a positive influence on the future superiority of
the situation.

"Before everything else, it is indispensable that we should never delude
ourselves about the position which we occupy.

"To define it exactly, one should call to mind the wise adage which says:
Know thyself.

"But this knowledge is rare.

"Presumptuous persons readily imagine that they attract the eyes of every
one, even if they be in the last rank.

"Timid persons will hide themselves behind others and, notwithstanding,
they are very much aggrieved not to be seen.

"Ambitious persons push away the troublesome ones, in order that they
themselves may get the first places.

"Lazy persons just let them do it.

"Irresolute persons hesitate before sitting down in vacant places and
are consumed with regrets from the time they perceive that others,
better prepared, take possession of them; the more so as they no longer
get back their own, for, during their hesitation, another has seated,
himself there.

"Enthusiasts fight to reach the first rank, but are so fatigued by their
violent struggles that they fall, tired out, before they have attained
their object.

"Obstinate people persist in coveting inaccessible places and spend
strength without results, which they might have employed more

"People of common sense are the only ones who experience no nervous
tension because of this struggle.

"They calculate their chances, compute the time, do not disturb
themselves uselessly, and never abandon their present position until they
have a firm grasp on the following place.

"They do not seek to occupy a rank which their knowledge would not permit
them to keep; they draw on that faculty with which they are gifted to
learn the science of true proportion.

"They do not meddle in endeavors to reform laws; they submit to them, by
learning how to adapt them to their needs, and respect them by seeking to
subordinate their opinion to the principle on which they are based.

"Persons who have no common sense are the only ones to revolt against the
laws of the country where they live.

"The wise man will recognize that they have been enacted to protect him
and that to be opposed to their observance would be acting as an enemy
to oneself."

However, people will say, if laws are so impeccable in their right
to authority, how is it that their interpretation leads so often
to disputes?

It is easy to reply that lawsuits are rarely instituted by men of common
sense; they leave this burden to people of evil intent, who imagine thus
to make a doubtful cause triumph.

It must be conceded that this means succeeds at times with them, when
they are dealing with timid or irresolute persons; but those who have
contracted the habit of reasoning, and who never undertake anything
without consulting common sense, will never allow themselves to be drawn
into the by-paths of sophistry.

If they are forced to enter there temporarily, in order to pursue the
adversary, who has hidden himself there, they will leave these paths as
soon as necessity does not force them to remain there longer and with
delight regain the broad road of rectitude.

A few pages further on we find a reflection which the Shogun, always
faithful to his principles of high morality, specially addresses to those
who make a profession of humility.

"Obedience," he says, "ought to be considered as a means; but, for the
one who wishes to succeed, in no sense can it be honored as a virtue.

"If it be a question of submission to law, that is nothing else but the
performance of a strict duty; this is a kind of compact which the man
of common sense concludes with society, to which he promises his
support for the maintenance of a protection from which he will be the
first to benefit.

"This obedience might be set down as selfishness were it not endorsed by
common sense.

"There are people, it is true, who, even altho wishing to support their
neighbor when called upon to do so by the law, seek to evade this duty if
left to themselves.

"These are pirates who have broken completely not only with the spirit of
equity, but also with simple common sense.

"It is always foolish to set the example of insubordination, for, if it
were followed, it would not be long before general disorder would appear.

"Some men were sitting one day on the edge of an inlet and were trying
with a net to catch fish, whose playful movements the men were following
through the limpid water.

"According to their character, their perseverance, their cleverness, and
the ingenuity of the means employed, they caught a proportionate number
of fish; but those who caught the least had one or two.

"This success encouraged them, and they began again in good earnest,
each one in his own way, when a stranger appeared; he was armed with a
long branch of a tree, which he plunged in the pond, touching the bottom
and stirring up the mud, which, as it scattered, rose to the surface of
the water.

"The limpidity of the water was immediately changed; one could no longer
see the fish, and the fishermen decided to discontinue their sport.

"But the man only laughed at their discomfiture and, brandishing a large
net, he threw it in his turn, chaffing them at the patient cunning by
which they had, he said, taken such a poor haul.

"He brought up some fish, it is true, but at each haul he was obliged to
lose so much time in removing the impurities, the debris, and the weeds
of all kinds from the net that very soon the fishermen had the
satisfaction of seeing him punished for his mean conduct.

"What he took was scarcely more than what the smartest among them had
taken, and his net, filthy from the mud, torn by the roots that he was
unable to avoid, was soon good for nothing."

Might it not be from this fable that we have taken the expression, "to
fish in troubled waters," of which without a doubt the good Yoritomo
furnished the origin many, many centuries ago?

His prophetic mind is unveiled again in the following advice that not a
business man of the twentieth century would reject.

"Common sense," he says, "when it is a question of the relations of men
as to what concerns business or society, ought to adopt the
characteristic of that animal called the chameleon.

"His natural color is dull, but he has the gift of reflecting the color
of the objects on which he rests.

"Near a leaf, he takes the tint of hope.

"On a lotus, he is glorified with the blue of the sky.

"Is this to say that his nature changes to the point of modifying his
natural color?

"No; he does not cease to possess that which recalls the color of the
ground, and the ephemeral color which he appropriates is only a
semblance, in order that he may be more easily mistaken for the objects

"The man who boasts of possessing common sense, altho preserving his
personality, ought not to fail, if he wants to succeed, to reflect that
of the person whom he wishes to aid him in succeeding."

Let it not be understood for a moment, that we advise any one to act
contrary to the impulses of justice.

But cleverness is a part of common sense in business, and assimilation is
essential to success.

It is not necessary to abandon one's convictions in order to
reflect principles which, without contradicting them, give them a
favorable color.

Common sense can remain intact and be differently colored, according as
it is applied to the arts, politics, or science.

It would not deserve its name if it did not know how to yield to
circumstances, in order to adorn the momentary caprice with flowers
of reason.

In the primitive ages, common sense consisted in keeping oneself in a
perpetual state of defense; attack was also at times prescribed, by
virtue of the principle that it is pernicious to allow one's rights to be

Attack was also at times a form of repression.

It was also a lesson in obedience and a reminder not to misunderstand
individual rights.

In later times, common sense served to make the advantages of harmony

It directed the descendants of peoples exclusively warlike toward the
secret place where science unfolds itself to the gaze of the vulgar; then
it taught them to provide for their existence by working.

It has demonstrated to them the necessity of reflection, by inciting
them to model their present course of life on the lessons which come
from the past.

It has given them the means to evoke it easily and effectively.

It has injected into their veins the calmness which permits them to draw
just conclusions and to adopt toward preceding reasonings the attitude
of absolute neutrality, without which all former presentiments are
marred by error.

Each epoch was, for common sense, an opportunity to manifest itself

At the moment when poetry was highly honored, it would have been
unreasonable to have ignored it, for the bards excited great enthusiasm
by their songs which gave birth to heroes.

And now, imbued with the principles which in his day might be taken to
represent what we to-day call advanced ideas, Yoritomo continues:

"Common sense can, then, without renouncing its devotion to truth, take
various forms or shades, for the truth of yesterday is not always the
truth of to-day.

"The gods of the past are considered simply as idols in our day and the
virtues of the distant past would be, at present, moral defects which
would prevent men from winning the battle of life, whose ideal is The
Best for which all the faculties should strive."

The Shogun also touches lightly on a subject which, already discust in
his time, has become, in our day, a burning truth; it is a question of a
fault, which in the world of practical life and in that of business can
cause considerable injury to him who allows it to be implanted in him.

We refer to that tendency which has been adorned or rather branded
successively with the names of hypochondria, pessimism, and lastly
neurasthenia, an appellation which comprises all kinds of nervous
diseases, the characteristic of which is incurable melancholy.

"There are people," he says, "who are afflicted with a special

"Everything they look at assumes immediately to their eyes the most
somber hues.

"They see in a flower only the germ of dry-rot; the most ideal
beauty appears to them only like the negligible covering of some
hideous skeleton.

"However, they hang on to this life which they do not cease to
calumniate, and people of common sense are rarely found who will try to
reason with them from a common-sense standpoint:

"'Since life is so insupportable to you, why do you impose upon yourself
the obligation to struggle with it?

"'Only insane people try to prolong their sojourn in a place where they
suffer martyrdom.'

"It is true that when, perchance, this argument is placed before them,
they do not fail to reply by invoking the shame of desertion.

"'Well, is not then the interest of the struggle to which we are
subjected a sufficient attraction to keep us at our post?'"

And, always enamored with the doctrine, which we are now assiduously
maintaining, he concludes:

"Common sense is, at times, the unfolding of a magnificent force which
incites us to attune our environment to actualities.

"One must not, however, fall into excess and draw a huge sword to pierce
the clouds, which obscure the sun.

"If struggle is praiseworthy when we have to face a real enemy, it
becomes worthy of scorn and laughter if we attack a puerile or imaginary

"But the number of people incapable of appreciating the true color of
things is not limited to those who enshroud them in black.

"There are others, on the contrary, who obstinately insist upon
surrounding them with a halo of sunlight only existing in their

"For such deluded people, obstacles seen from a distance take on the most
attractive appearance; they would be readily disposed to enjoy them and
only consent to allow them a certain importance if they absolutely
obstruct the way.

"But until the moment when impossibility confronts them, do they deny its
existence or underrate its importance by attributing a favorable
influence to it.

"This propensity to see all in the ideal would be enviable if it did not
wound common sense, which revenges itself by refusing to these
improvident people the help of the reasoning power necessary to sustain
them in the crisis of discouragement which brings about irresistibly the
establishment of error.

"These unbalanced people rarely experience success, for they are unable,
as long as their blindness lasts, to mark out a line of serious conduct
for themselves.

"All projects built on the quicksands of false deductions will perish
without even leaving behind them material sufficient to reconstruct them.

"It is impossible to combat strongly enough this tendency to
self-delusion, which inclines us to become the prey of untruth, by
preventing the birth of faith, based on preceding success.

"Sincere conviction, on the contrary, will lead us to refute strongly
all the false arguments, which impede thought and would choke it in
order to allow unadulterated pleasure to be installed on the ruins of
common sense.

"The battle of life demands warriors and conquerors as well as critics,
less brilliant, perhaps, but just as worthy of admiration, for their
mission is equally important, altho infinitely more obscure.

"Whether he be a peasant tilling his field or a rich capitalist
manipulating his gold, he who works in order to satisfy the needs or
luxury of his existence is a fighter whose hours are spent in occupations
more or less dangerous.

"From time to time, however, a cessation of hostilities is produced; such
always follows the appearance of common sense which, by giving to things
their true proportions, causes the greater part of inequalities to

"Finally, he who cultivates this virtue unostentatiously will always be
protected from the caprices of fortune; if he is poor, common sense will
indicate to him the way to cease to be poor, and, if chance has given him
birth in opulence, the counsels of experience will demonstrate to him the
frailty of possessions that one has not acquired by personal effort."

This conclusion is strikingly true, for it is certain that prosperity
attained by personal effort is less likely to fade away than an inherited
fortune, whose owner can only understand the ordinary pleasure of a
possession which he has not ardently desired.

He who is the maker of his own position is more able to maintain it; he
knows the price of the efforts which he had to make in order to construct
it, and, armed with common sense, he is as able to defend his treasure as
to enjoy the sweet savor of a thing which he has desired, longed for, and
won by the force of his will and judgment, placed at the service of
circumstances and directed toward success.



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