The Virtue of Prudence: How do we learn it?

By Dr Gerard Gaskin, Executive Director of Catholic Education Tasmania

These days a sick person can consult a plethora of on-line medical websites, list their symptoms and reach a diagnosis – all without going to see a doctor. Whether this is a wise process is a matter of debate. Web programs has a high a risk of a misdiagnosis, possibly because the patient did not list all their symptoms, or simply because the diagnostic software was incapable of asking the right questions to gain a deeper understanding of the possible illness.

With all its artificial intelligence – the machine learning that enables a website to make a diagnosis – even the best medical website cannot make up for a real appointment with a qualified and competent doctor. This is because the website does not have the advantage of the human virtue of prudence. Only a real doctor can prudently observe, question, measure, evaluate, consult and ultimately, provide a unique diagnosis that fits the exact needs of the individual patient.

If we want to grow in prudence then we would do well, just like the diagnosing doctor, to start with a similar list: all the things we need to do before coming to a decision. This is entirely because the prudence of any decision we make is utterly determined by the preparation we make before deciding.

Prudent preparation makes for prudent decisions. We can all benefit from such decision-making-preparation. Here’s a possible list of questions we can ask ourselves before making our next big decision:

“Am I rushing this decision because of pressure or time?” Bad decisions are often made in a hurry. Find a way to slow things down. Buy yourself the time and space to think things through – before deciding.

Consider all aspects of the matter. Ask yourself, “What are the things I need to know before I consider my next steps?” Use your imagination. It may be the one thing that you did not consider that creates a bad outcome.

“What will be the consequences of my decision, not just the things I want to happen, but any other negative consequences?” Things can and do go bad. It is better if we have already considered them as a possibility.

“Have I asked all the right people for help.” Start with God. Any decision we have not prayed about will always lack something. He knows everything, He made everything, He knows how it all works, His support is free, unlimited and available 24/7. We’d be crazy not to ask.

Finally, “Why am I making this decision?” Am I doing this thing because I want to do better or be better?”

If we find we can satisfactorily answer all the above questions, then we are on the way to a prudent decision.

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