Aristotle is praised for naming fortitude, First of the cardinal virtues as that without which no other virtue can steadily be practiced; but he might, with equal propriety have placed prudence and justice before it. Since without prudence fortitude is mad; without justice it is dangerous. Only a fool or a suicide will jump into a river without making sure about the depths, eddies and whirlpools. And even there no one tests the depth of a river with both feet.
Rashness has been unhappy parent of misfortune. Once in a blue moon it might bring us luck but more often than not it is fraught with dangerous consequences. The Persian monarch Xerxes, rashly enough, ordered an expedition to conquer Greece. With a wave of the hand he dismissed all pitfalls and dangers. When the trial of strength came the armies of Xerxes were dashed to smithereens and the crestfallen monarch escaped in a solitary boat, forlorn and humiliated. Those who act first think afterwards are bound to repent forever.
History is replete with such instances. Napoleon, otherwise calculating and sagacious warrior in a rash and proud moment gave signal for an invasion of Russia. He had counted without the terrible winter of that country. His armies were bogged down in the snows. The flower his army, the Iron Guards, perished and the loss became the prelude Napoleon’s utter downfall.
History repeated itself. In the Second World War, Hitler drunk power and pride turned his guns towards Russia, in spite of the Non- aggression Pact which he had solemnly signed. He also met disaster paid the price for his rash decision. True statesmanship lies in thinking hundred times before deciding on any course of action. A situation is assessed in all its potentialities and possibilities. Though you would like to beat the dog, you have to consider the master’s face as well.
Look before you leap, sums up the wisdom born out of experience.
In ordinary situations the proverb holds. But there are moment’s crises or emergency when boldness or even rashness may be preferable cool calculation.
In earthquakes, famines, floods and national calamities a person should act at once without caring for the consequences. In trying to avoid rashness one might go to other extreme of indecision and sloth. A bachelor, said a humorist, is one who looks before he leaps then never leaps. Rashness is any time better than sloth. But the right course is quickness guided by prudence. Haste and rashness are storms and tempests breaking and wrecking business; but nimbleness is a fair wind, blowing it with speed to the haven.