Somehow the concept of docility has received a rather bad press. It seems to denote a quality of weakness, of wishy-washy meekness. It’s not strong or dynamic enough, we might think. But this is to misunderstand the word. Another word for docility is teachability, and it’s vital for the growth of prudence.
Saint Thomas says (Summa Theologica , II. II:49:3) that prudence is concerned with matters of ‘infinite variety,’ and no one can consider them all sufficiently, nor can this be done with the speed we sometimes need in life.
Hence in matters of prudence man stands in very great need of being taught by others,
especially by those of sufficient age and with enough life-experience to have acquired a ‘sane understanding’ of what is really important. He drives the point home by saying that a person’s own efforts are vital here. We must ‘carefully, frequently and reverently’ apply our minds to the teachings of those who are truly wise and learned, ‘neither neglecting them through laziness, nor despising them through pride.’
People might comment that “so and so only learns the hard way.” She won’t listen to anyone, she just goes off hard-headedly, and makes a mess of things. Only then does she learn – when much damage has already been done. While this may well be a stage that many of us go through in adolescence, Thomas would say that it’s not really a necessary stage in the journey to individuation. Through our capacity to learn from others, it is possible to make important decisions that both affirm our independence and are the result of our teachability. We do not have to learn the hard way in order to mature and attain the virtue of prudence.