By Mary O’Brien, M.D
They had second thoughts about it. Twelve boys and their soccer coach had heard heavy rains were coming, but they went on their excursion anyway. Tourists looking forward to an outing on a lake in Missouri never imagined how dangerous a storm could be. The duckboat operators chose to ignore a forecast for thunderstorms. They thought it would be alright. Life jackets were considered unnecessary. After all, they’re such a nuisance. Two groups of people failed to heed the quiet whisper of prudence. The first group survived, but only with the immense efforts of over a thousand people and the loss of a brave Thai diver. The second group suffered catastrophic consequences with 17 deaths including nine members of one family and seven seriously injured.
Prudence would have prevented both disasters. It’s not a word we hear much today. In fact, it almost seems arcane. Prudence sounds like the name of a fussy old maid in an eighteenth century novel. The New Oxford Dictionary defines prudence as “acting with or showing care and thought for the future.” Its origins can be traced to the Old French and Latin word “provident,” meaning “foreseeing or attending to.” Could any reasonable person doubt the need for more prudence at every level of society? Foreseeing or attending to the future is a tremendously useful virtue.
Many of us have fallen into the trap of wanting too much and, naturally, we want it now. A flight delayed or cancelled due to bad weather leaves nearly everyone frustrated and upset. It’s better to cope with temporary disappointment and stay alive.
Every year, people die in cars swept away by raging flood waters. Thousands die or sustain serious injuries in accidents related to severe storms, blizzards, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Prudence would have dictated staying off the roads in the first place. Numerous other situations confirm this vital lesson. Swimmers, surfers, golfers, hikers, campers, skiers, mountain climbers, and others have ignored prudent warnings and suffered terrible consequences.
Prudence does not shout. It announces its presence with a whisper. The next time you feel an uneasy, nagging sense of caution about something, pay attention. It may just be the wise whisper of prudence.