I confess I must be careful how I speak about cautiousness. Approached carelessly, I may come across as hypocritical. As a rule, I desire to be quick to act. I prefer to begin every day with a bias for action.
Sometimes people confuse a bias for action as the opposite of cautiousness.
However, Character First defines cautiousness as “Taking time to ensure the right decision is made or action is taken.” They oppose it to rashness, which Webster’s defines as “done or made quickly and without thought about what will happen as a result.”
The contrast between cautiousness and rashness is not one of speed. Rather the key difference is found in the phrase “without thought about what will happen as a result.”
US World War II General, George S. Patton, was known to be rash, aggressive, and abrasive. His rash actions striking 2 different soldiers under his command caused him to lose favor. He even lost his command for a time during World War II. Rashness typified General Patton, at least when not engaged in battle.
In late 1944 General Patton was returned to command the Third Army where he led a rapid, successful drive eastward across France. However, in the German counterattack, the Battle of the Bulge, the German Army pushed back and surrounded a town in Belgium called Bastogne.
On December 19, in an emergency meeting, General Patton was asked by General Eisenhower to break off their eastward attack and move north to help the soldiers trapped at Bastogne.
According to one account*, General Eisenhower asked, “I want you to make a strong counterattack… When can you start?”
“’As soon as you’re through with me,’ Patton claimed, ‘I can attack the day after tomorrow morning.’ He had thought his moves out the night before and… left three alternative plans with his deputy, General Hobart Gay. All he had to do was telephone a code word to active his troops.”*
“Patton’s aid recalled ‘a stir, a shuffling of feet as those present straightened up in their chairs. In some faces skepticism [showed]. But though the room, a current of excitement leaped.’ [The claim] seemed logistically unsound. Patton was confident he could do it.”*
The daring attack would have been rash, had General Patton not thought about it and planned it carefully in advance. His timing and his planning demonstrated cautiousness. Any wartime example risks offending, but this example demonstrates how planning and timing mark the line between a cautiousness and rashness.
Cautiousness creates opportunities for our community as well. It is based on planning and timing and never implies slowness, or risk avoidance. Rashness is a careless waste of opportunity. I’m grateful for the cautiousness demonstrated by our city leaders. They avoid rashness and demonstrate cautiousness through careful planning and timing. They steward our resources, maximize our opportunity, and enable our future by cautiousness.
Note: From The Battle of the Bulge published on www.historynet.com at http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-the-bulge. This article by Stanley Weintraub was originally published in the Winter 2007 issue of MHQ Magazine.