The Better Part of Valor is NOT Discretion

They say that discretion is the better part of valor.  That’s what they say.  But you know what?  I think sometimes a little less discretion gets you a lot more valor.  This expression has always bothered me.

VALOR: strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness : personal bravery

Yes to firmness and personal bravery!  I value courage…acts of courage both big and small.  All this talk of “discretion” in the same phrase as valor makes me uncomfortable.  So I went to the mountaintop to seek the wisdom of the ancients…..(I googled it).

Here is what I discovered!  The phrase has its origins in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.  And, as it turns out, is basically quoting a coward named Falstaff in the scene described below.

discretion is the better part of valor

So I was right to be uncomfortable with this phrase….well, at least according to William Shakespeare.  But my contemporary anecdotal experience is that this phrase is not used in a joking fashion.

And that bothers me.

It bothers me because I think we are living in an age where courage and valor are not trending in the right direction.

My son and I went to see the latest Star Wars movie recently.  We really enjoyed it.  What I like about Star Wars is the enduring theme that there is good and evil in the world…and that they are both powerful forces.

Furthermore, there will always be a struggle between the two and that individuals have to make choices.  Affirmative choices.

I feel like the divide between ”Good and Evil” has been watered down in today’s culture.  Who one identifies as the good guy or the bad guy often depends on your perspective these days.  There is a lot of grey it seems to me.  Too much grey.  Not enough valor.

I blame Discretion.



4 Replies to “The Better Part of Valor is NOT Discretion”

  1. a) haha I had no idea that quote was Falstaff! Bad English major!

    b) I’d always thought that saying was warning against the kind of “Jackass” ( the TV show) idiocy young men can get up to sometimes. Yes it WOULD take courage to set your own jeans on fire! but don’t do that. Thank you for educating me.

    c) I’ve been to that place! (Shakespeare & Co). First time at 19.

    d) Maybe it also takes courage to acknowledge that there’s a lot of gray?

    1. Somehow, I don’t know how, but I intuitively knew that this picture is somewhere you had been. I knew it!

      And to be clear, I am not anti-gray. Gray is real and should be acknowledged. I am “anti-too much” gray.

      Where are the heroes and the villains today? C’mon!!!!


  2. discretion is both being cautious/quiet and being wise in choosing — as in the ubiquitous “viewer discretion is advised”. I seriously doubt there is too much discretion — rather the opposite. Too much trumpeting of ill-thought-out opinion and foolish controversy. Too little thought to any wise choices there might be in handling the differences that result. Folks DO indeed attempt to water down the distinctions between good and evil into the gray that — though it always there — is never as concealing as they think it is. Shakespeare often had his characters play at being virtuous whilst intent on self-serving ends, and so displayed human nature large for us. But I doubt any of his original viewers missed the intentional irony of Falstaff calling his own actions “valor”. As for discerning (which is the same root word as discretion) good from evil, here’s a quote from another playwright who shares the end of the alphabetical shelf with Shakespeare (and please mind the irony): “It’s prudent to gain the whole world and lose your own soul. But don’t forget that your soul sticks to you if you stick to it; but the world has a way of slipping through your fingers.”

    1. Well done, Cheryl. You make a good case for not enough discretion in the world. My main desire is for more valor, more courage, more conviction….however it may be achieved.

      Thank you VERY much for your thoughtful comment and hope to hear from you again!

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