One must care about the world one will never see…

Red-eyed tree frog.Credit: ScienceDaily.com

Red-eyed tree frog.
Credit: ScienceDaily.com

I’ve been reflecting a good deal today as I’m in the post-chemo not quite right period where my body is wondering what I’ve done to it while my brain is merrily trying to orchestrate anything that happens to pop in there.  I find misalignment between brain and body a little disconcerting. Normally they act with faultless synchronicity but a ripple in the water is always an opportunity for exploration and today I decided to mull over the cardinal virtue of prudence.

I normally associate prudence with finances, being thrifty and economical.  I walked a financial tightrope for a number of years in my youth and had to learn how to make ends meet, keep on top of my bills and still put food on the table.  It was a challenge but it taught me how to value every penny and many years later I still do.  It’s just as well because as many people know having a chronic or critical illness is expensive.  But I don’t want to dwell on finances today; instead I’ll ponder the wider meanings of prudence:

  • having good sense and judgement
  • being careful and sensible
  • discerning, mindful, sagacious

I stumbled across this Bertrand Russell quote about prudence: “One must care about the world one will never see.”  It gave me pause for considerable thought because for me it speaks at many levels.

There’s a world I’ll never see under the leaf-litter, deep in the oceans and beneath the rain forest canopies.  I know it’s there but I don’t have access to it.

Similarly, although our individual time on earth might seem lengthy at the outset in reality we’re each here for just a nanosecond. Others, future generations, follow behind.

Considering the world I’ll never see prompted me to think whatever we do here today leaves a legacy future generations will have to contend with tomorrow.  Much of that legacy is beneficial – innovative technologies, improved drugs, new engineering techniques – but some elements are less helpful.  Pollution, deforestation, decimation of plant and animal species. In the last 25 years it’s estimated more than 120 species of amphibians have become extinct and that’s just one example.  Now I know frogs, toads and newts aren’t cuddly but does it mean I shouldn’t care?

I suppose I could say this kind of thing is not my problem, why worry over it when there’s so much else to contend with these days. Our future generations will undoubtedly have squabbling politicians, hi-tec gadgets and a plethora of new gizmos to help them recover from the mess we left behind.

But that’s the trouble, I’m not good with a guilty conscience.  I never leave my dirty dishes in the sink because I know it’ll stop anyone else using it and I don’t expect other people to clear up after me.  I’m also fairly certain that after a while dirty dishes start to stink. It might be easier, less physical effort to leave the dishes but I can’t do it because I think Bertrand Russell was right – “one must care about the world one will never see.”  I’ll  add John Milton for good measure too – “prudence is the virtue by which we discern what is proper to do under various circumstances in time and place.”

There’s a lot to be said for having good sense and judgement, being careful, mindful and sagacious, not just for today but tomorrow. Especially when it’s someone else’s tomorrow…

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