“Look before you leap” (English Proverb).
THE BEST TIME TO BE CAREFUL ABOUT A DEED IS BEFORE YOU DO IT. Looking before you leap may be old advice, but it’s still wise. Having already leaped, it is hard to change direction in midair.
There are few regrets more painful in life than having spoken or acted in ways that were hurtful to other people. And the pain of such regrets comes from knowing we were needlessly cruel: we know it didn’t have to be that way. If only we had stopped to think — and been more careful — the outcome could have been different. So carefulness needs to be a higher priority for most of us. “Don’t monkey with the buzz saw” is good counsel, socially as well as physically.
It might not be too much to say that our words are the things we need to be most careful about. Too often, we speak rashly, do great harm, and then later wish we had not spoken so quickly. The first time I ever heard H. G. Bohn’s rule, “Think today and speak tomorrow,” I thought it was cowardly, but now I see the wisdom of it. No doubt there are times when it’s urgent that we speak up, but there are many more times when we need to push the “pause” button and hold off expressing a thought until we’ve had time to think about it. Words can do more damage than any kind of physical “buzz saw.” To say they should be handled carefully is a considerable understatement.
But “care” can be used in another sense. If you say that you “care” for someone, that statement usually has a positive connotation. So apply that idea to our discussion of carefulness in general. Shouldn’t you “care” enough about your words and deeds to be “careful” about them? I believe that’s a helpful way to think about it. Being “careful” doesn’t have to mean you are fearful or finicky in a negative sense — it can mean you view your freedom as a blessing and you want to lavish all the loving care upon your deeds that they deserve.
Fortunately, life has a way of urging us to be more careful. When we encounter roadblocks on the way to our goals, life is often saying to us, “Before proceeding, you need to think about this a little more.”
“It is happily and kindly provided that in every life there are certain pauses and interruptions which force consideration upon the careless” (Samuel Johnson).