Caution should never be confused with fear. It has often been thus confused in the minds of many people in many individual instances. Fear is the instigator of inaction or of action born of desperation, while caution is the prelude to intelligent action, regardless of the fact that caution may impel an individual to delay action until a more appropriate time or condition. In other words caution is a common sense reasoning about matters that are to be undertaken, while fear stultifies the reasoning power and makes all action unintelligent if not impossible.
There is a distinction to be made, however, between fear and appreciation of danger. A man may realize that his life or those of his loved ones are in danger and he may be filled with misgivings as to the outcome of whatever action he may take, but this is not truly fear. It is merely an appreciation of danger. Appreciation of danger usually results automatically in action that is more or less intelligent, but fear, itself, usually paralyzes action or makes it ineffective. A man of courage uses that courage to take intelligent action but not to overcome fear, for if fear dwells within his heart courage is automatically excluded.
We have often heard of the courage that is born of desperation, which merely means that the individual has fully realized his danger and for the moment has banished fear and is willing to take the consequences of courageous action. Desperation, however, is the exact opposite of caution. The cautious man will weigh in advance the consequences of his speech as well as his actions. Caution will not deter him from doing the right thing, but it may persuade him to wait for a more suitable occasion.
Caution and fear cannot dwell at the same time in the heart and mind of an individual, for caution is the forerunner of intelligent action and fear is the forerunner of unintelligent action or of no action whatever. It might be said that caution is inspired by a determination to go ahead while fear is inspired by the dread of consequences and the lack of determination to go ahead. In the business world, especially, courage inspires men to accept responsibility, but caution is used, first, to determine the extent of a person’s responsibilities and, second, the best and safest methods to be used in fulfilling such responsibilities. When we say the best methods it should be understood that this means the most honorable, the fairest and the most effective.
Most men have a fair amount of what is called physical courage in the face of danger. There are a large proportion of these men, however, deficient in some degree in mental and moral courage, both of which are essential when it comes to accepting responsibility. It is especially along these lines that the element of caution should enter in. Some men will accept major responsibilities with little intent to carry through. It is more or less in the nature of an experiment and if the going is rough they will seek to evade or to escape from their
responsibilities. We desire to again point out that the element of caution is present when any individual has a determination to see a thing through and to fully live up to his responsibilities.
Caution does not imply that an individual should demand, or even desire, a full set of rules and regulations covering every conceivable condition and circumstance that might arise. It does require, however, that a man should recognize and understand the result which is to be attained and that he should also understand the vital principles and general course of conduct to be used in attaining the desired results. With such understanding the man’s own common sense, his honor and his sense of justice should provide him with the solution of the problems which he must face from day to day.
In considering the angle of justice a man’s common sense should tell him that he should divorce the personal element from every situation which should be decided entirely upon the bases of principle and justice. Justice calls for rewards to the most worthy and not to those who are most loved. It calls for equal treatment, in questions of judgment, of our enemies as well as our friends. Not only is caution needed in the initial stages of accepting responsibilities so that they may be thoroughly understood, but it must be constantly present in the fulfillment of those responsibilities in order that we may avoid injustice and harm.
The pretense of caution should not be used for the purpose of an alibi. If honor, justice and right demand action, then action should be taken, regardless of the consequences. This does not mean, however, unintelligent action, and caution is necessary in order that intelligent action may be taken at the proper time so that the necessary results will be secured. It will clearly be seen from the above that caution is a companion of courage, of determination, of fully accepted responsibility and of intelligent action. Caution, therefore, does not belong in the class with fear, timidity, uncertainty, or lack of acceptance of responsibility.
Many people have often thought of caution in connection with lack of courage, timidity and evasion of responsibility, but this is contrary to the actual truth. There is a time and place, for example, to break bad news.
There is a time and place for amusement and for entertainment. There is a time and place for serious considerations, for proper handling of business, for training, for education, and for many activities of the world that we live in. Caution should be exercised, not to eliminate any of the wholesome or pleasant activities of our lives, but to bring them into proper alignment with the duties, responsibilities and sometimes unpleasant necessities that are included in our responsibilities.
We cannot entirely banish mistakes and errors; we cannot eliminate sorrow, pain, suffering and distasteful duties altogether; but we can make life so much more wholesome, pleasant and enjoyable that by comparison it would be practically perfect, and we can make ourselves so strong that neither our distasteful duties nor our sufferings and afflictions would be able to crush our spirit or destroy our happiness.
In order to avoid the larger portion of our mistakes and errors, after we have acquired the determination to go forward and upward and have accepted our responsibilities in the full sense of the word, it is exceedingly helpful to have caution ever present at our side. Impulsive and unthinking speech and action are mistakes in themselves and almost always lead to some unpleasant consequence. The cautious man therefore should be careful of what he says and of the way he says it, as well as careful of his actions and the manner of them.
There is no place in a wholesome and pleasant association and activity of the people for the grouch, the ill tempered, or the intolerant. Neither should there be a place for the individual who refuses to accept any responsibility whatever, but goes on his merry way, hurting other people’s feelings, obstructing their sincere efforts, and living upon their earnings. A beautiful young girl may do no work worthy of the name, but her mere presence in the world may bring beauty and joy to enough people to justify her existence, provided that she is not innately harmful, obstructive or hurtful to other individuals. An old man may be incapable of doing any physical work, but if out of his wisdom he can guide and help other individuals along the right road he more than justifies his own existence. Anyone who helps build up the world and the character of individuals composing it, is a helpful influence and is entitled to be called a worker. How much more good we may do, then, if we ourselves are not only intelligent workers, but also help to build up the character and spirit of the people with whom we come in contact.
Many of us have known individuals who were hard workers but who never seemed to lose the opportunity of saying something kind and helpful to individuals who crossed their path, who were ready with praise where praise could be given and have kept silent when there was nothing good to say about an individual, who could see the good characteristics in their friends and loved ones and who did not harp on their faults and shortcomings. Such an individual is not only a really pleasant associate, but he brings cheer and comfort into the lives of many just by being around them. There is no reason why each one of us as an individual should not develop into that kind of person, each according to his own temperament and personality. What counts is not the mere detail of how such things are accomplished, but the real intent upon the part of the individual who wishes to accomplish them.
If we do desire to develop ourselves along these lines caution must be an ever-present companion. It is the necessary preliminary to saying the right things in the right way and doing the right things in the right manner. Caution should be considered as a very effective and necessary instrument in being helpful to others, in accomplishing our objectives that are worth while, and in making the world a better place to live in.
H. B. MONJAR – May, 1936