“Hindsight is 20/20” they say, and it’s often the case that we only figure out the consequences of particular actions after the fact. Sometimes it’s very difficult to foresee what will happen tomorrow based upon what we do today. But other times, the Book of Proverbs reminds us, we shouldn’t be surprised that our ideas and actions have consequences. For example, Solomon wrote, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?”
The answer is obvious, Scripture says: “So is the one who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; Whoever touches her will not go unpunished.” We don’t need 20/20 hindsight in these cases! We just need a little obvious foresight.
And that’s what the ancient philosophers called the virtue of prudence, and it’s the next part of our series here on BreakPoint, and on the “Two-Minute Warning” commentaries on the cardinal virtues. Today, you can go to colsoncenter.org, to see a video of Chuck Colson teaching about this idea of prudence.
So what is it? According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the function of prudence is “to point out which course of action is to be taken in any round of concrete circumstances.”
This is very different from the derogatory idea of being prudish. And, this is not excessive caution in the face of necessary action. No, this is what the ancients also called wisdom. The one who is prudent possesses the understanding to practice all the virtues in the right time and right circumstance. Prudence is a virtue of the intellect rather than of the will, and it’s needed to regulate all the other virtues. Without it, our bent toward practicing vice is given free rein.
There was obviously an alarming lack of prudence in the reported actions of members of the U.S. Secret Service in Colombia who brought prostitutes up to their rooms, engaged in brawling at a brothel, snorted cocaine, and got drunk. Talk about scooping fire into your lap! The fallout of this scandal is huge, but why didn’t the agents foresee what would happen because of their actions?
To boil it down, they weren’t prudent. Now think about what can happen when prudence is cast aside on a national scale.
For example, the current federal financial and debt scandal reveals a lack of national prudence! Reliable estimates say the Obama administration has rung up more debt than George W. Bush did, in half the time. We are well on our way to a sixteen-trillion-dollar national debt. Do you know how much money that is, and how long it will take to pay it off? Well, neither do I!
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan has called our predicament the most predictable crisis in history. But it was only predictable to those with prudence — who have the ability and the will to think about consequences. We didn’t need complex financial algorithms or highly paid consultants to foresee this disaster. We only needed to look across the ocean at Spain and Greece, whose fiscal imprudence has brought them to the brink of catastrophe.
But too many of us were willing to look the other way, and now we, our children, our grandchildren will quite literally be paying the consequences for decades.
But this is no time to despair. Hindsight or not, it is never too late to develop the virtue of prudence, and to begin reaping its rewards. So let’s get started, shall we? It’s the only prudent thing we can do!
Remember, watch Chuck Colson’s “Two-Minute Warning” video commentary on the virtue of prudence today at ColsonCenter.org. Next week, we’ll cover the virtue of temperance.