Franke: A Simple Resolution
by Mark Franke
Last year I was a casualty of hubris, the ancient Greek term for incredible egotism leading to stupidity. Maybe that’s not the technical definition as a classical scholar would tell you but it describes my year perfectly. At least it is an accurate description for that aspect of 2021 relating to my fidelity in keeping my New Year’s resolutions.
I had nine, taken from St. Paul’s delineation of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Note that he uses fruit in the singular as these nine characteristics are all interrelated and dependent on each other. They exist in total or not at all.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I should have known better than try to improve my exercise of all of these at the same time. I didn’t fail miserably but I hardly met God’s standard let alone my wife’s. But I did try in my own imperfect way and perhaps there was value in the attempt. I just can’t brag about my success, and I learned my lesson about setting impossible goals.
For 2022 I propose only one resolution. At risk of being anachronistic when it comes to the liturgical seasons, my resolution is taken from the first of the Great “O” Antiphons sung since the sixth century by the Christian Church during Advent.
Each of the seven antiphons recognizes an attribute or role of the coming Messiah. It is only the first which I find capable of being imitated by us poor mortals — wisdom. Fine, but why does the antiphon end with a plea for wisdom to teach us in the way of prudence?
I grew up in Waynedale, a small, blue-collar town in northeast Indiana which lost its independence in the 1950’s to the evil empire of Fort Wayne. I don’t recall ever hearing the word prudence until I got to high school and one of my English teachers had that as her name. I subsequently learned that it was a popular name for girls among the Puritans who settled Massachusetts and the Quakers who settled Pennsylvania. To a Waynedaler like me, it simply meant think before you act. In other words, don’t do something stupid or take irresponsible chances. Forrest Gump could have grown up in Waynedale.
So what is the relationship between wisdom and prudence? Are they the same thing? Like with most questions I confront, I found that going back to classical thinkers helped me understand why wisdom teaches prudence.
An article posted by the Scholé Academy, an organization dedicated to classical educational models, straightened me out. The writer, Eddie Kotynski, equated prudence with discernment, an ability to see clearly and act on that sight. That sounds a lot like wisdom to me so its connection to prudence makes perfect sense.
Prudence requires the intellect and the conscience act in concert, but that is not enough. Knowing what is right and good is of little value without the will to act accordingly. It may prevent you from doing the wrong thing but that is only half the battle of living a life of prudence. Thinking prudently requires acting prudently. This is what the wise person does every day. That’s the hard part.
Kotynski is clear on this. He calls prudence “a goal to be pursued and not an achievement to be had.” That sounds to me like a plebeian yet realistic definition of a New Year’s resolution. I just need to break it down into manageable chunks, simplest chunks to be addressed first.
So in 2022 I will avoid doing stupid things as best I can. Even If I am successful at that, I still haven’t traveled far down the path to prudence. There is still the essentiality of doing the right thing, which can only be done with discernment. I will go back to St. Paul one more time and adopt his admonition to do what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). I think my simple resolution just became more difficult.
Will I succeed? My recollection of high school and college grading scales is that 70 percent is a passing grade. Then there is the undergraduate’s salvation, grading on the curve, which in this case is simply a Pharisaical argument that at least I am not as bad as others.
Perhaps I can convince my family and friends to apply this generous rubric to my actions although I don’t want to encourage them to spend the year keeping score. That’s already being taken care of in my household.
Meanwhile, there is that extra weight which so displeases my doctor.
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.