Soldiers call it the “360 mindset.” It means being aware of and understanding all the factors that inform your decision about what to do next.
Moral situation awareness is called Prudence. A prudent person, first of all, wants to do the right thing, applies his experience and knowledge of what is good, and stays on the lookout for ways to accomplish it. You consider what happened in the past in similar situations and seek reliable sources of advice to decide the “what” and “how” of your action. You scan for any unintended consequences you didn’t see before and take your action with conviction and due caution.
Prudence is your chance to express yourself at the highest level – to make decisions on the basis of what you know is good, instead of what you want to grab right now but will likely do harm later. Your power of Prudence oversees and commands the whole operation from perception to understanding to action. That’s why it’s the most important of the moral virtues – the one that helps you decide how much Courage (forging ahead) and Temperance (holding back) you need to achieve your goal of doing the right thing.
For instance, I was driving on the Interstate last month and remembered I wanted to call my mom. It was Saturday morning, not much traffic – in fact, there were no cars near me at all. It would have been easy to whip out my phone and a few keystrokes later have her on the line. Miles of highway ahead and plenty of time to talk.
Instead, I backed away from the urge to do that and took a realistic look at the situation. Had I ever seen a speeding car come out of nowhere? Yes. Had I ever seen a police car around the bend, waiting for lawbreakers? Yes. Had I ever hit someone’s bumper in traffic because I was reaching into a bag of caramel corn on the seat next to me? …Yes.
So the virtue of Prudence came to my rescue on that highway and I waited until I had pulled over to make the call. In the end, I felt peaceful because I had made the right decision – not to endanger my life or anyone else’s by following a momentary urge. Even if calling my mom was a better motive than grabbing a handful of caramel corn.