Prudence is the ability for one to determine what is appropriate at any given time.
In the virtue of Prudence, we find the ability to make sound choices in the real world – choices that either expose us and others to danger or shield us from it.
A personal story might be helpful here, as it illustrates a lack of prudence that could have cost me my life, and how the common choices we make sometimes have profound consequences. My college friends and I were inner-tubing down the Guadalupe River near San Antonio, Texas and came upon the spot known as the “Blue Hole.” It was a very deep spot in the river, and is probably connected to a subterranean aquifer. It was a local tradition for people to leap from an overhanging rock face into the Blue Hole. My initial answer to the invitation was, “No, thank you”. However, once the boys swam away, leaving me alone with all the girls, my testosterone got the better of me and I raced to join them. I had a couple of chances to back out, including looking over the 20-foot drop-off, down to the water below. I didn’t use the proper judgment – I wasn’t prudent enough to back out even though I really did not want to jump.
My companions counted to three and we all stepped off the precipice – I instantly regretted my decision. “This was a dumb idea,” I thought as I plummeted to the water below, along with six other boys, all within an arms’ reach of each other. We hit the water so hard, and I went so deep that I nearly ran out of air before I made it back to the surface. There were a hundred things that could have gone wrong, and we were very lucky that no one was hurt. That experience was a great lesson in Prudence for me – that I should listen to my inner voice when it is shouting at me to pay attention
There are other ways to demonstrate Prudence besides deciding not to jump off 20-foot high rocks. The virtue of Prudence is also helpful when making ordinary decisions, such as what to eat for dinner, or whether to accelerate through a yellow traffic light (or not). In fact, it’s the daily small choices that define us far more than the big ones.