Prudence- I Think

Prudence- I Think

I never thought I would miss Muzak. It turns out, though, that I would rather not listen to Adele being overwrought while I’m picking up laundry detergent and pickles. Don’t get me wrong; I like some of Adele’s music. I also believe there to be a time and a place for being overwrought, and the grocery store is neither the time nor the place.

I could make a case that this is an issue of temperance, and it has that component as well. But our culture at least pays temporal lip service to caring about temperance sometimes. People want to lose weight. People want to quit smoking. We understand in theory that overindulgence can be a bad thing. But I do not see even a temporal understanding of the perils of overindulgence in emotion.

Our culture has completely lost the idea of prudence. As a holy priest says, “sin makes us stupid,” and our culture has embraced all manner of sinfulness. In order to be prudent, we must have the use of reason, and reason requires restraint. If you disagree, please look at the condition of our political “discussion” this year. The logical fallacies far outpace the actual intellectual engagement, especially the appeals to emotion. The emotion-laden words thrown at the opposition make opera sound calm.

Our most important public intellectual, Thomas Sowell, says that the issue isn’t that Johnny can’t read; it’s that Johnny can’t think. Johnny confuses thinking with feeling. We hear this everywhere, “I feel. . .” One might expect such nonsense from adolescents just finding their way in the world, but adult members of congress and the Fourth Estate seem completely unable to distinguish reality from their emotional fantasies. No matter how strongly I feel myself to be a millionaire, my bank account states the facts.

Our use of reason must be coupled with docility in order to sift through the amount of information that pours from the media. It is impossible to be an expert in every area. If I lack the epistemic humility to realize others know more than I in almost every area, I will be more likely to make imprudent decisions. This does not mean we trust everyone who is labeled as an expert. We must do our due diligence when faced with decisions. If we form our consciences according to the precepts and teachings of the Church, we are much more likely to have appropriate caution and shrewdness when they are called for.

Since we live in the age where almost every person in the west carries the library of Alexandria in his pocket, we can use search engines and trusted friends to find news outlets who tell the truth, regardless of the popularity of that truth. They help us find trusted experts in each area so we can then apply our rational judgement and prudence to the facts as we have understood them. This is much more likely to help us achieve prudential judgement than thoughtlessly relying on popular media outlets who generally just huckster for political agendas and their financial interests. An indicator that I use when listening to any expert is what emotional state are they trying to bring me to? Are they stating information in a calm way that assists in evaluation? Are they using inflammatory words that incline me toward strong emotion? If they are trying to inflame my emotions, I know that I must at least parse that out before I can decide if they are a trustworthy source or not. Most of the time, I discard media sources who wish to engage emotions rather than reason.

This is all well and good. But the issue still faces us every time we turn to the internet or go out in public that we are surrounded by the histrionic and overwrought. Aquinas says that prudence is “right reason in action,” but what does that look like when surrounded by opera singers?

Several years ago, the City of Saint Louis decided to stop enforcing the traffic laws. Since then people have begun running red lights, speeding at alarming rates, and weaving around pedestrians, among other horrific and dangerous behaviors. This was completely predictable to anyone who understands human behavior. It is imprudent to violate the traffic laws because it creates a more dangerous situation for everyone involved, yet no thinking person was surprised at what has happened. When stopped at a red light in the city, it is quite likely that at least two cars will speed around me to the right or left and go through the light. Other drivers regularly shout and gesture at me for going the speed limit as they speed around me. Their behavior endangers their own lives without producing any compensatory benefit. It is clearly imprudent and fueled by irrational emotion rather than rational thought.

Billboards are shoveling impurity to us all day long, so I have learned to keep custody of my eyes when I am away from home. A friend and I were recently discussing custody of the mind, and I realized that I needed to work on that as well. A few years ago I realized that my auditory memory was the strongest part of my brain after meningitis, so I stopped listening to music because it was interfering with my prayer life. At first it was difficult, but I’ve performed Handel’s Messiah probably 30 times, so any time a song I didn’t wish to be in my mind popped up, I simply played Messiah in my head over the top of it until it stopped. After a few times of this, I could stop the music immediately. Now I rarely have to do this at all. A similar prudence must be used with listening to news channels, reading headlines in grocery lines, and even listening to conversations when out, lest we imbibe gossip. Keeping our thoughts on Christ and the Church helps immensely with this, as did Messiah.

It is unlikely that any of us can completely do away with histrionics in our lives. If we want to know about the election, want to drive anywhere there might be traffic, or have a relationship with loved ones who have lost themselves in the current insanity, we must have ways to exercise our prudence muscles. It is important that we ask Our Father to give us the grace necessary to be prudent in all situations. We must also understand what the underlying components are and work toward engaging each as necessary throughout the day.

I mostly do not cry when Schnucks is blaring “Someone Like You” through the speakers anymore. This is mainly because I am able not to listen to what is being blared while I am there. I listen to the rosary in my head, picture my grandson laughing, or sing old-time hymns under my breath. Find what works, in your prudential judgement, and resist participating in the criminal theft of our national soul.

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Written by
Jennifer Borek