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May 2006 Character Quality -- Discretion
The following editorial article was written by Gloria Cooper for publication in The Paris News --
When we think of a discreet person, what comes to mind?  One who takes care to think before
he speaks or acts?  Perhaps one who does or says nothing – for nothing  should be done or
said.  Abraham Lincoln said, “ ‘Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and
remove all doubt.”  Discretion is recognizing and avoiding words, attitudes, and actions that
could result in undesirable consequences.  The age-old idiom, “Look before you leap” is
especially true in circumstances requiring discretion.  

A discreet person will observe the circumstances, and before jumping into the situation, weigh
the consequences or benefits.  Death and life are in the power of the tongue and the words
spoken can both hinder or aid.  Words need to be carefully weighed to discern how others would
take them, exactly what they mean, and what they are intended to mean. A wise man once said,
“Discretion is knowing what not to say.”  When a police officer gives the Miranda Rights, he
says, “You have the right to remain silent. Everything you say can and will be used against you
in a court of law.”  We could very well take that right and put it to day-to-day use.  We do not
want to say or do anything in private that we would not want to explain in public.

Asaph, a priest and chief musician in Israel, said, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ behold, I would
have been untrue to the generations of Your children.”  He grew weary of seeing the wicked
prosper, and thought that everything he was doing was in vain.  However when he entered the
house of God, he learned the end of the wicked.  Had he broadcast his doubts and complaints
before coming to a solution, he would have instilled doubt in the community of God – yet he held
his peace.  

Everyone makes mistakes, but instead of wishing that we had never made the mistake, we
should find out how the problem started and endeavor not to repeat the performance.  Another
way to be discreet is to look out for compromising situations and stay away from them.  However,
avoiding these situations is not the key.  Thoughts and attitudes come from the heart, and this is
where we need to examine ourselves before we speak or act. If we are not careful, we can wind
up in the web of hypocrisy, saying things that we do not do ourselves.

Sometimes discretion requires boldness.  If we need to clearly address an issue, then “softer”
words may not be the best answer. They may fail to convey the right message.  In this case, if
we worry too much about bad results, we can actually confuse the issue, cause
misunderstanding, and not say what we need to say.  

While we use discretion to protect ourselves from embarrassment or consequences, the focus
should always be to protect and consider others. By watching what we say and restraining our
tongues, we make others feel welcome, sooth any embarrassment, and give them
Portions of this article have been adapted from Character First! materials.  For more information about the
Character First! program and resources contact:  Character Training Institute, 520 W. Main Street, Oklahoma
City, OK  73102,  (405) 815-0001. Visit the Character Council of Red River Valley at
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