Where there is Mercy and Prudence,
There is neither Excess nor Harshness. St. Francis, The Admonitions XXVII
[The Message of St. Francis, New York: Penguin Studio, 1999, p. 9]
Prudence: 1. The ability to govern oneself by the use of reason; 2. sagacity or shrewdness in the management of affairs. 3. Skill and good judgment in the use of resources; 4. Caution or circumspection as to danger or risk [Merriam-Webster online dictionary www.merriam-webster.com]
Being prudent isn’t the same thing as being a prude (a person who is excessively or priggishly attentive to propriety or decorum, Merriam-Webster). A prude fulfills the letter of the law for its own sake, or to feel morally superior to those who don’t. He or she may feel a smug sense of satisfaction by avoiding mistakes or pointing out the transgressions of others, but there’s no real life or love involved. Ironically, excessive focus on doing things properly in all times and places is also blindness to the rest of this life-giving world – the very opposite of prudence.
The virtue of prudence is sound judgment, a grasp on the bigger issues involved in daily actions, respectful and effective use of resources, and the good sense to stay out of danger. Self control isn’t for its own sake, nor is it a means of shaming others. The whole point is to live in a way that brings good things to self and others, to bring self and neighbor together.
I rarely think about the word prudence, but I do my best to practice it in my daily living. I don’t want to judge others harshly to feel good about myself and I don’t want to use more than my share of the world’s resources. I want to live a good, rich life with a minimum of worldly goods; I want to help others do the same. I can’t be prudent and a prude at the same time – if I can remember that simple truth, my blessings won’t be at the expense of others.