“The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude, and perseverance” (Samuel Adams).
SOME WORDS CONVEY AN IDEA BY MEANS OF A MENTAL PICTURE, AND “CIRCUMSPECTION” IS SUCH A WORD. Literally, it means to “look in a circle” or to “look around,” and the picture is that of a person walking through a dangerous area and looking around before he takes each step. Think of a soldier walking across a minefield: he would look around carefully and watch where he stepped. To live circumspectly, then, is to live carefully. The main idea is what we might call heedfulness — paying attention to where we “step.”
The more hazardous the times in which we live, the more important it is to make careful decisions about our lives. And if the “necessity of the times” called for circumspection in Samuel Adams’s day, the age in which we live is no less perilous. If we don’t “watch where we’re going,” some very unpleasant surprises are going to shock us.
As we discussed in yesterday’s reading on “vulnerability,” it is possible to be too concerned with things like prudence and risk-avoidance. In this matter, we need to strive for balance, and balance can only be achieved by wisdom. Life’s issues are not all equal; some are weightier and deserve more circumspection than others. So we need to grow in the wisdom that is required to tell the difference.
Without circumspection, we’re going to hurt ourselves, but what is worse, we’re going to hurt others. Our concern for others is mainly what should make us want to be circumspect. Thomas à Kempis spoke truly when he said, “Love is watchful.” The more we love those around us, the more careful we’ll be in the way we live our lives. In an interconnected world, carefulness is a great gift we can give.
But in deciding what to be circumspect about, most of us should be less concerned about physical issues and more concerned about spiritual and moral ones. Too much of the time, we lavish great care on the former and are shockingly careless about the latter. So my advice to you is this: however prudent you are in doing what is safe, watch your step even more in doing what is right. Let the question of moral integrity be the one where you “watch your step” most carefully.
“Watch that you do what you should do” (Oswald Chambers).