Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. It’s a modern proverb that means even though we are free to do something, it isn’t always the right thing to do. But how do we know the right thing to do? The answer lies in the often-forgotten virtue of prudence.
Prudence is not just the name of an advice columnist, it is one of the cardinal virtues – and is, in fact, referred to as the “charioteer of the virtues” because it guides and controls the other virtues. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as:
The virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it. – Paragraph 1806
So prudence allows us to look at a situation reasonably and discern the best course of action to take. Sounds great, right? But how do we develop the virtue of prudence so that we can know the right thing to do? Recently a listener named Katie called in to The Patrick Madrid Show with a very similar question, and Patrick gave some practical advice to help Katie look at future situations in a more prudent manner. Read Katie’s question and Patrick’s response below:
Sometimes I have the opportunity to be a leader at my parish, or among my friends, where people come to me asking questions; which is awesome and terrifying at the same time. Sometimes it’s necessary to tell people things they don’t want to hear. And I try to be honest and kind, and approach them in a way where they can hear what I’m saying, and I try to pray about it.
But people don’t like to be told that what they’re doing isn’t right, or that there might be a problem or a challenge. And sometimes if you step in front of the fray, you get hit. So how do you tell the difference between being a target because you are doing the right thing, versus doors closing because it’s not what you really should be doing?
The thought that I would ask myself is: Is it necessary that I tell this person how I feel about what he/she is doing? In other words, if I have some authority over that person, or if I have some responsibility that involves that person, and there’s a compelling reason that I need to voice my opinion, then I’ll do it and I’ll try to do it as carefully as I can.
But if there’s no compelling reason, or if I have no authority, or if it’s not necessary that the person know what I think about what he’s doing, then I’m probably not going to say anything. Because it’s not necessary.
But if somebody says to you, ‘I really want to know, do you think I’m doing the right thing?’ or ‘What do you think of this situation?’ You might counter by saying, ‘Well, I have an opinion. Do you really want to know what it is?’ If they say yes, then I would feel free to then be much more forthright.
But if somebody didn’t ask my opinion, and it really was none of my business, or I didn’t have a compelling reason why I would need to tell somebody what I think, I would try to just pipe down and not say anything.
Listen to the full conversation below: