The Virtue of Prudence

By Engr. Carlos Cornejo

How do we become more prudent?  By being more wise.  But how do we acquire wisdom?  Wisdom is rooted in values.  The term “values” is derived from the word valuable, or anything that is precious or important to us.  When you ask a person, what are your values? It is tantamount to asking what do you hold important in your life.  The ideal important things in life are faith, family, friends, work or profession.  Normally no one would answer, “The things that are important to me is wealth, popularity and pleasure”.  These are the three “worldly” things that are the opposites to values.  They have been the main sources of vice or bad habits with the likes of greed (love for money), vanity (love for honor) and hedonism (love for pleasure).   In the corporate world, no company would make the foundation of its existence on vices.  Companies’ vision and mission are always rooted on values or more specifically corporate values.

This brings us to the second definition of values: values are principles or beliefs in life that are proper to us as human beings.  Doesn’t this sound close to the definition of virtue?  The answer is yes.  Virtues are defined as good habits.  And what is appropriate for us humans are good actions or doing good things to ourselves and to our neighbor.  Often times virtues and values are interchangeable.  Philosophers or theologians would say values refer to good thoughts or good ideas and virtues refer to good actions.  Virtues in other words are values put into action.

Some examples of the virtues are honesty, respectfulness, loyalty, patience, and charity.  To help us practice these virtues we need prudence.  Prudence is defined as the virtue that disposes our intelligence to discern in every circumstance what is morally good from what is morally evil.  Or it is simply defined as choosing good over evil.  The virtue of prudence is like our tour guide in making decisions.  Every single day we make a lot of decisions.  Let’s subtract those that are not moral in nature such as choosing what toothpaste brand to buy, or whether to take a taxi or ‘angkas’ motorbike to work.  Prudence is to be applied more to life’s important or moral decisions.  Whether to go home now to be with my family or to continue with my work at the office.  Whether to go with my barkada for a night out or go straight home and study for my exams tomorrow.  Whether to be honest in my work or to acquire easy money in the form of bribery or graft and corruption.  These are the kind of situations and decisions in life where prudence is a valuable tool.

Even in the corporate world, a company president who is faced with big decisions for his or her workers would be very much helped by this virtue. Whether to fire some workers because of some economic crunch or make them work with reduced hours because workers have a family to feed, is not an easy decision to make.  Company presidents and all of us ought to remember that decision making is all about values clarification as Bo Sanchez would say.  Meaning we should make decisions based on the highest values and for the greatest good for the greatest number.  In other words, it’s all about doing the right thing.

So, if you are confused on what to do or what decision to make.  Think. What is the right thing to do? Which is equivalent to saying, what values do I choose here to resolve my situation? And then do it.  Sometimes the decision is so important you need time to think it over.  In these cases, prudence will tell you, you need to consult a person whom you respect and look up to or someone who really cares for you.  Parents, teachers, priests and guidance counselors are a good source for guidance and advice.  A trusted friend will also do if he or she is someone who has been living an exemplary life.  Prudence is meant to help us make the right decisions in life.  When we choose to do the right thing, there will be no regrets regardless of whether we were successful or not.  What is important is we choose what is good in the sight of God and get to sleep well at night.