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Character Matters
September 1, 2009
Character Trait –Discretion:
Check It Out. – What Does It Matter? – How Does it Count?


Discretion - The Better Part of Valor
The Bible tells us not to grow weary of well-doing (Gal. 6:9). I might add: don't grow weary of being wary. To be wary means to be cautious. To be cautious doesn't mean you do nothing. It means you take the time to discern, judge, and carefully examine all the options. That's what we learned about last month's character trait of thoughtfulness.

This month we want to take that idea one step further. One element of wisdom is discretion. Discretion is prudence mixed with knowledge that enables a person to judge and critique what is correct or proper. It has come to mean being careful about what one does and says. It is thoughtfulness applied to one's own behavior and actions.

Discretion literally means a separation or distinction. As we train up our children, there are two aspects to discretion that need to be incorporated into their lives. One has to do with social skills and relationships. This is the ability to discern the situation and adjust one's behavior accordingly. It is discretion that tells us that if we are at a formal, serious event, then it's not wise to crack a joke. This sort of discretion is best learned in controlled situations where the child can be shown what to do or how to adjust through role playing.

The second aspect of discretion has to do with thinking skills. Discretion enables us to separate key points from the surrounding elements. It means that we see distinctively, perceiving more than what is readily apparent on the surface. Examples are recognizing the underlying worldview or assumptions of an author's writing.

There is a certain amount of wariness involved in discretion. Students need to be taught not to take something at “face value.” That is, accepting it as true just because they read it in a book, find it through an Internet search, hear it from a scholarly source, or even from the pulpit.

Discretion recognizes that something may sound good when you first hear it, but when you dig into what is actually meant by the words spoken – by comparing it to other communications made by the person and their actions – you realize that what is intended is far different. Discretion operates on the rule of thumb that the more general the statement, the more discretion is required.

Notice, too, that discretion requires both knowledge and the ability to judge. That's why little children rarely are discreet. They don't have enough knowledge or life experiences to make distinctions. As we impart knowledge to our children, it is equally important that we give them the benefit of our own life experiences to begin to give them perspective. It's important that we discuss ideas and beliefs with them so that they can understand all sides of an issue.

Incidentally, one of the reasons homeschoolers tend to be better socialized is that they tend to interact with a wider range of people and ages than their public school counterparts. These first-hand experiences help build an experience bank of social interactions that enable children to make the necessary distinctions in different social settings.

There is another nuance of meaning involved in discretion: it is the liberty and power of deciding or acting without control other than one's own judgment. An example is leaving the management of a task to someone's own discretion, however they see fit. For homeschoolers, it is the liberty and power of deciding how to educate our children as we see fit. Not flippantly or haphazardly, but through careful consideration of the options according to the values we hold dear.

It is no accident that in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, Falstaff declares: the better part of valor is discretion. It takes courage to be discreet, to judge critically, and to act on one's own beliefs when it means going against the tide of global political correctness.

It's also no accident that when God asked King Solomon, who was known world-wide for his wisdom, what he would like God to give him, Solomon responded:

Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people,
that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able
to judge this thy so great a people?
711 words
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