Even in today’s social media-driven world where everything pushes us to exhibit ourselves, to communicate, and to express even our moods and our most secret thoughts as soon as we experience them, there are still some people who know how to be discreet. They are people who still observe the world with patience and discernment.
But living this virtue isn’t always easy.
Indeed, these days, one who doesn’t want to stand out from the crowd might well be considered suspicious. “That’s exactly what I experience in my work,” says Magali, 33, a graphic designer. Reserved by nature, Magali prefers not to attract attention within her team. “My clothes are traditional, and my way of speaking is decidedly discreet. I also have rules of courtesy. Speaking out or cutting the other person off to put the spotlight on me and ‘sell myself’ horrifies me! So yes, many people think I’m old-fashioned,” she tells Aleteia.
Apparently there’s nothing more outdated than discretion. And what if being modest and reserved, keeping quiet to make room for others, were an experience of joy and precious inner peace? Discretion and humility may be character traits that come to us naturally, or expressions of fidelity to the values of “good education” that require restraint in attitude as well as in appearance. But it can also be the active work of the Holy Spirit.
For Fr. Raphaël Buyse, discretion is a specific virtue that we exercise in our relationship with others and that expresses “loving respect for every human being, beginning with those who are closest and weakest.”
It is an “attentive eye, capable of discerning in detail the profound needs, which may be very subtle, of those around us. A moderating virtue that brings nuance and balance to life and penetrates it with a mysterious delicacy,” he writes, sketching the portrait of a great Benedictine monk, the Belgian Frederic Debuyst (1922-2017).
Debuyst, the founder of the Saint-André de Clerlande monastery (located in Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium), was a man of great gentleness, almost self-effacing, and who, for many, was a master in the art of discretion. This became the work of the Spirit of the Lord. “His life showed, without grand speeches, that following Christ must never be done with violent efforts or exuberant jolts, but with great patience in daily life, a regular rhythm of prayer and work, an ability to bear our own deficiencies and those of others,” writes Fr. Raphaël Buyse.
… following Christ must never be done with violent efforts or exuberant jolts, but with great patience in daily life, a regular rhythm of prayer and work, an ability to bear our own deficiencies and those of others.
Discretion, then, is the Spirit of wisdom that inspires us to move preferably from “respect for the most worthy” to “respect for the weakest.” It is goodness that “speaks little, does not put itself forward, does not spread itself in organizations and statistics,” he continues.
So maybe before we jump on social media to share our selfies, seek “likes,” and followers, and participate in the generalized exhibitionism of our age, we should ask ourselves if we’re getting seduced by narcissism and pride, instead of practicing a healthy level of discretion that allows us to focus on others instead. This calls for sacrifice and true charity.
In this way, the evangelical virtue of discretion is a path to conversion of heart and to rebirth in the Spirit, in the way Jesus revealed to Nicodemus: “Do this and you will live.”