Foresight (October 10)


A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished” (The Book of Proverbs).

WE DO OURSELVES, AND ALSO THOSE AROUND US, A HUGE FAVOR WHEN WE LOOK AHEAD. Not all dangers can be foreseen, but some can, and it makes good sense to use what foresight is possible for us. In the wisdom literature of ancient times, one of the principal differences between the wise person and the fool is that the wise person uses good judgment in protecting himself from problems that he can foresee, whereas the fool pays no attention to warnings. Unwilling to learn from the past, the fool is doomed to repeat it.

To be sure, some folks use foresight as an excuse never to do anything that involves any risk. “Prudence,” said Tehyi Hsieh, “is sometimes stretched too far, until it blocks the road of progress.” If cowardice or laziness is our problem, we shouldn’t camouflage that by calling it foresight. Prudence is a value and one that is quite important, but frankly, it shouldn’t always be the deciding factor.

The opposite extreme, of course, would be equally unhelpful. Since foresight is not infallible, we must not place too much confidence in it. We may be able to see a little ways down the road ahead, but usually we can’t see very far. Thus our sense of security and optimism can’t be based on our foreknowledge of what is going to happen; it must be based on our adherence to valid principles. Travelers who have an accurate compass can get by without a road map.

What healthy foresight comes down to, therefore, is simply this: (a) the wise observation of problems that have come up in the lives of other people, and (b) the taking of commonsense measures to help protect ourselves from those same problems. In that sense, our foresight is actually based on hindsight: we are willing to learn from past experience in ways that can make our future much better.

Life often goes along quite comfortably, and we are certainly thankful when it does. But foresight tells us that it may not always be so. Happenings on some days may not be as favorable as they are today. It’s a wise person then who takes reasonable precautions — if not for his own sake, at least for the sake of his friends and loved ones.

“Although it rains, cast not away the watering pot” (Malay Proverb).

Gary Henry –