It has little to do with terms like circumlocution (to blather), circumscribe (to restrict), circumvent (to evade), or circumcise (to snip). To be circumspect is to look around before making a statement or decision. It describes me well.
A few years ago, I decided to see a life coach. (A life coach is a social worker cum soothsayer for people of privilege.) I completed a questionnaire and then sat down with my oracle, Meike, at a café.
I was anointed with five themes (or talents in the StrengthFinder parlance) that inform the way I perceive the world and behave in it. Meike printed out my themes and we turned over each one like tarot; I saw my past, present, and future.
My five themes, in brief:
There is something magnetizing, almost flattering, about reading definitive blurbs about yourself in the second person. You almost want to thank the Gods for noticing, until you remember that this isn’t an assessment, it’s a mirror. I had already pecked away a scatter of questions on a long and tedious survey. This was the whole bag of seeds.
I nodded assent as my fortune was read. Why yes, I do love thinking, and talking, and hoarding ideas, and knowing where “people and objects need to be placed,” but one theme did not jibe with me. Am I deliberative?
You are careful not to give too much praise and recognition, lest it be misconstrued. If people don’t like you because you are not as effusive as others, then so be it. For you, life is not a popularity contest. Life is something of a minefield. Others can run through it recklessly if they so choose, but you take a different approach. You identify the dangers, weigh their relative impact, and then place your feet deliberately. You walk with care. Strengthsfinder
Me? But I’m rash and make decisions quickly and unthinkingly. Like when I packed up and moved to a new country. Or all the times I’ve quit a job without a new one lined up. And what about these pants? I got them online.
If you know me, but aren’t me, my delusion is apparent. All my decisions are considered. I moved to the US because I was mentally prepared to do it. And I was mentally prepared to do it because I can’t not deliberate. My brain preemptively and continuously churns through all the alternative stories, options, and possibilities, long before they are possibilities. This is also known as anxiety.
Though I like “to explain, to describe, to speak in public,” I’m pretty quiet in a group meeting. I’m amazed by the folks who can blat half-digested ideas into a conference room. I prefer to stay quiet and absorb what’s being said. Let others chop vegetables; I will manage the stew.
If that sounds judgmental, it is. But the OED, in their callow bluntness, responds with equal judgment. They describe my sense of caution as “unwilling.” Is decisiveness just a matter of will?
I justify my care in thought with the fact that poor decisions lead to poor consequences. But then, it’s important to distinguish between two kinds of unwillingness. We may all be loath to face poor consequences—the circumspect man is unwilling to make poor decisions.
Meike would nod knowingly through our sessions, because she had seen all the types. There are those who pore over decisions like someone fawning over a prized collection, and those who hurl their decisions with precision through windows whether open or closed.
I am biased by my bred-and-born habits, but I feel that the world could benefit from a little more circumspection in its judgments. Maybe we should all think before we speak, and not as we speak. Consider before we condemn. Understand other viewpoints and not just hear them.
Then again, that’s only one point of view.