This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. I started the year with prudence – or the rational capacity to distinguish good from evil. Every week, I will publish an update on this blog, in the form of a free-flowing meditation.
On my sixth week, I chose to reflect on various methods to train prudence.
As a starting point, Sunday focused on general principles. Prudence is the capacity to correctly assess the particulars of a present situation, and our capacity to bring about a different situation, which we believe is good. Prudence, therefore, must rest on radical honesty with oneself, and a resolute willingness to name and assess the present. For this, it requires a careful balance of perception and introspection. Its opposite is self-delusion, a wrong appraisal of the world around us, and our own place in it.
We are not alone in this world. Therefore, a crucial element of prudence is understanding the limits of our responsibility. This, in turn, requires an understanding of other people’s responsibilities, as well as their willingness and capacity to act. Prudence is a balancing act, between too much and too little responsibility. To help with this, I proposed myself a pair of distinct prudence hashtags, which I applied through the week, #myproblemtosolve and #myproblemtonotice.
The world we live in is too complex for us to predict much in advance. Prudence therefore entails a capacity to deal with unexpected situations, and urges us to be ready for the unknown. Excessive planning shows a lack of prudence: attention, energy, resources are invested in a future that may not come about, and distracted from an ever-shifting present. This uncertainty can cause anxiety, it is tempting to turn our heads away, bury them in a blueprint. Deliberate relaxation and a resolution to remain calm are therefore key components of prudence – and these may come from ongoing breathing exercises, and regular meditation.
It is better to stay still than actively make progress in the wrong direction. This is the wisdom I shared with my team on Wednesday, and applies particularly when we’re exploring new things. We feel lost, not because we carelessly wandered off, but because the path does not exist, and we must find our way. Trusting in the process becomes crucial here – whether it’s applying design thinking or another method, we must accept the regular return of a lost-feeling, not knowing where we are. No matter how far we go, there is always an untrodden path ahead.
Working with others, it is prudence to know what our strengths are, and lead accordingly. Two years ago, during the THNK program, I received an excellent model of leadership styles, through four distinct archetypes. The warrior brings movement and energy; the architect develops plans and structures; the healer aligns emotions and mediates conflicts; the chief articulates vision and provides direction. My personal preference is to work as a healer. On Thursday, I deliberately led like one, with a clear focus on maximally reducing friction. When this occurs, minimal amounts of energy can yield considerable results. It is no better or worse than other modes of leading – I resolved I should learn how to operate in others – but for the time being, focus on my strengths.
All through the week, the methods I explored focused on mental models, thinking, appraising. But prudence is more than strategic thinking: it involves commitment, and is geared towards action. This action must be timely: prudence is not rash, but speed is of the essence. Vision must lead to movement. And so, the method to train prudence is to set oneself close deadlines, put oneself in a situation where prudence is required – and hold a measure of self-trust, that when required, the virtue must emerge. Here again, balance is necessary, to try and avoid both harm and stagnation.