Greetings from Shenandoah National Park. My dear mom and I have repaired here for 36 hours to take in the wholesome air. Also, I have undertaken to put the finishing touches on my training for the Army Ten-Miler this Sunday. My last-minute-training theory is: If you can run up and down the hills on Skyline Drive, you can do anything.
Actually, biking up and down the Skyline-Drive hills is even more impressive. A few intrepid athletes were out trying to conquer the hills on two wheels (with no motor). I saw a lovely couple on a tandem bike working their way up a dizzyingly steep half-mile incline. Quite a show of force. Excellent teamwork.
I have a class presentation to give on the virtue of docility. In contemporary English, to be called “docile” is not necessarily a compliment. It can imply that you are easily led by the nose, obedient to a fault. Even without this pejorative connotation, “docile” tends to suggest a lack of proper assertiveness or a weak personality. When we hear ‘docile,’ we think either of a trained animal or a Stepford wife.
In the classical terminology of the great philosophers, however, “docility” is a good quality. In St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, docile simply means “teachable.” According to St. Thomas, docility is one of the eight parts of the virtue of prudence. The teachable person is ready to learn from someone who knows more. In other words, the docile person takes counsel, listens to good advice.
Docility makes someone prudent by making him moderate in making decisions and taking action. Someone could be ingenious, knowledgeable, and shrewd, but he runs the risk of acting imprudently if he does not take advice, because no one can know everything about everything. Also, someone could be brave, quick, and thoroughly reasonable, but, again, he will act imprudently out of rashness if he is not willing to listen.
The virtue of docility is the great moderator of minds: Teachableness makes smart people smarter; it makes courageous people patient; it makes slow minds knowledgeable; it makes creative geniuses humble; it makes smooth operators wise.
Doing right requires knowing the truth. We learn more of the truth when we are humble enough to admit what we don’t know, and when we are meek enough to listen even to people we don’t like. The readier we are to learn from others, the better we will be at making good decisions and doing the right thing.
Don’t get me wrong here: Docility is not the only virtue. It is only one of eight parts of prudence, and prudence is one of four cardinal virtues. Everyone needs to be their own person; everyone needs to follow their own lights. It is not good to be led around by the nose, to be passive or submit to bad advice. But it IS good to be teachable. An all-around excellent person listens to good advice, then makes up his own mind.