Discretion is the better part of valor,” “Caution is preferrable to rash bravery,” and “The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life.” - All attributed to William Shakespeare
The father and son were skiing together and had decided to head into a tight tree run. The son being in his late teens, and still somewhat made out of rubber, encouraged his dad, who had just turned 51 into joining him on the run. As they picked their way across the top of the run looking for the best entry point, the son without warning dropped into a powder stash and was quickly on his way down the mountain.
The dad stood there on his skis looking for his own entry point down. The longer he stood there, the more nervous he became, and the more nervous he became, the more his muscles tensed and froze. With no way back out, he remembered something he had heard in his life, “God hates a coward.” He wasn’t sure where he had heard it, but the timing was right as it was all the persuasion he needed as he pointed his tips over the ledge and took off down the mountain after his son.
Happy to report that both father and son were reunited safely at the bottom.
I share that story as one recently shared with me because not too long ago I happened to be playing golf with a couple of customers. One of the guys in our group kept finding himself in trouble, meaning always hitting out of the woods or over water, playing a bit of rescue golf all day. I was standing next to him as he was trying to line up a shot around a tree. He kept walking around trying to decide to just punch the ball out or go for the risky shot that called for an intentional draw around the tree. He looked over at me and said, “God hates a coward,” and swung away.
Happy to report that although his ball did not find the green, it ended up just a few yards short. It was a magnificent shot.
We have all been faced with moments of decision on when we should choose discretion over rash bravery, and hopefully we have all decided in those most critical decision points of life that indeed discretion was the better part of valor. Making a bad decision could end up in serious injury. Making a bad decision in golf will just usually end up with several lost balls and a very bad score. But decisions when it comes to family, health, finances, careers and other key areas of life require us to use judgment and discernment before rushing into something that could cause us much greater harm than good.
Is it always the case? No, sometimes those quick or rash decisions work out. I have had a few of those over the years where my instincts took over and I went with my gut, meeting with tremendous success. However, I can share with you that I have also made many bad decisions to take an immediate action, being brave or courageous at the absolute wrong time, and well, those turned out as you would expect, some injury, heartache, and metaphorically a lot of lost golf balls and high scores in life.
I love this quote from Matt Damon’s character in “We Bought a Zoo”: “You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
Using Shakespeare’s quotes to temper enthusiasm in the heat of the moment, with the thought that God hates a coward, and all I need is 20 seconds of insane courage, has helped keep my balance. Do you know when and how to choose wisely? I would love to hear your story at firstname.lastname@example.org, and when we find that balance between discretion and courage, it really will be a better than good life.
Michael Norton is an author, a personal and professional coach, consultant, trainer, encourager and motivator of individuals and businesses, working with organizations and associations across multiple industries.