Prudence can be defined as the virtue that enables us to discern what our true good is, in all circumstances, and to choose the right means to achieve it.
- Accept Your Limits
Own and accept your ignorance on certain matters. We do not and cannot know everything, no matter how intelligent we are. When confronted by a matter that you genuinely know little-to-nothing about, it is better to take a listening position. Listening includes reading and observation. It also includes asking questions to better tease out the facts and the truth.
- Do Not Impose Your Opinions
This is to avoid inconsistency in the statement of your values. It is also to avoid making a sensitive situation worse and ultimately, to be wiser in the content of your speech. Reflection is also a cure for precipitated action which often results in saying what we might regret or doing what might cause suffering for others. Reflection will also help us listen more and let go of our prejudices and presumption about people and situations.
- Choose Carefully Those Who You Tell Personal or Professional Matters
Not everyone you know needs to know everything about you and others. This applies to personal things and professional situations. Jesus was particularly prudent in this manner. He first revealed his divinity to those who he could trust and who were ready to know it (Mt. 16: 17-20). Jesus also healed Jairus’s daughter in front of a few people he pre-selected (Mk 5: 37-43).
- Reflect Before Acting
Act on things that you ought to act on. Oftentimes, it is obvious when we should act. Our observation and conscience could be very helpful for discernment in these contexts. When unclear, ask for advice from those you trust and who live prudence in their own lives.
Note that if the action required of us is relatively minor such as sending a non-confidential document you promised to send; avoid any unnecessary reflection or inordinate delays because such behaviors could be imprudent in such contexts.
- Improve on Related Virtues
Like other virtues, prudence can be helped by improving on relevant virtues. Relevant virtues for prudence include humility which helps us acknowledge our limits and to avoid imposing our opinions. Fortitude helps us with the courage to act when we should; Justice, helps us consider and weigh all options including the impact of our actions. Finally, Temperance guides us to the right measure of our action.
|Hindrances to Prudence|
6. Our Imagination
These can give us the wrong intentions and cause us to attribute wrong conclusions to others. Work on your imagination. Guide it to be based on truth and a realistic optimism. Discipline your imagination to always assume the best of others.
This is when we avoid the responsibility and risk of acting. If the subject waiting for your action is minor, for instance, doing an assignment or task, evidently the cure here is to work on becoming motivated including by praying for motivation. However, if the subject of your action is more serious and you are unsure of whether to act, consult a person you trust or someone who lives the virtue of prudence.
Intentionally misinterpreting facts to avoid the responsibility of acting, is a failure of prudence. Do not lie to yourself or to others to hide a painful truth. Bring it to the right person, for instance, to a Priest during confession. When it comes to telling others the truth about themselves, do not lie. Rather, tell the truth but first with a “spoonful of sugar.” Highlight the good things about the person or situation before following, using kind words, with what might need improvement. End with words of support and internal prayer for that person and for yourself.
9. The Past
To be fixated on the past in a manner that disables your ability to act in the present is a hindrance to growth in prudence. While certain past situations are so horrific that they impact the present, consider this truth, that “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”
– Pope St. John Paul II.
Sift the past through the lens of the truth about the situation but also the truth about yourself as the child of God who can overcome any and everything through Christ. (Phil 4:13)
10. Pray for Prudence
Use any of these famous prayers:
a. Make me to know your ways O Lord, teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me – Psalm 25: 4-6.
b. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. (The Serenity Prayer)