If any virtue has been given a bad name it is the virtue of prudence. One need only call someone a prude and observe the reaction to notice the kind of reputation the word has.
But far from being as the word seems to imply, someone who is far too sheepish about sexual matters, prudence in a yester-year meant something much more noble.
Or if we like we might even call one of our contemporaries a prudent man or woman, but at best that seems to be the sort of praise we might give a clever tactician, or worse; it is the kind of praise we give someone who is able to avoid the embarrasing situation of having to be brave.
Really though, if we look farther back than the Victorian era, we notice that among the virtues, prudence is given the highest of honours. And it is so revered because Prudence is “the habit of finding and enabling virtue.”
Think about this.
No one needs to tell the child about justice. He feels it in his bones as someone wiggles her way in front of him as they line up for recess.
No one needs to tell the child about temperance either, as the limitations of her stomach will certainly make things clear after indulging in too many sweets.
And again, no child needs a great lecture on courage, as they are surrounded from the first of their days with situations and people and animals that really do frighten them.
You see, when it comes to the cardinal virtues we know almost intuitively what they are when we find them, whether on the playground, when confronted by the ferocious animal or our third helping of pasta.
But when we can’t find the virtuous action, when we stand in the cloud of adult interactions and politics, what then?
Well this is when the truly prudent person goes to work, and they do so not by avoiding a topic they find taboo or another virtue that they would rather not employ.
Instead, the one who loves and wants the true, good and beautiful in this world, enters into a process that uncovers and makes other virtues alive and well.
So what do they do? Put simply, the prudent person gathers information, they make a decision and then they act accordingly.
The corporate woman for example finds that her overseers want her to twist the truth about her company’s numbers in order to secure some kind of funding. Hmmm..which virtue is needed here?
The family member, finds himself at the Christmas party, where all are eating more than their share because well, tis the season. Again…which virtue should come to the rescue?
In any scenario where there is really a ‘what to do’ kind of moment, prudence is your best friend.
Remember though, that every virtue can be driven to excess or depletion if we are not careful, and this virtue is no exception.
So if you tend to gather information, and maybe even decide what is the right thing to do, but then cannot put it into action; then I am sorry, but you are not very prudent.
Or if you are the kind of person who will spend time gathering data on your particular situation for years, never coming to a decision, you too are not prudent.
And obviously, if you have developed the habit of acting first and thinking later, you are definitely not prudent.
No the virtue of prudence is the key to all other virtues.
So strive for prudence, because let’s face it, this world needs a lot more virtue.