Twenty-five hundred years ago the Chinese philosopher Confucius stated “Supreme indeed is the middle path.” Moderation along with wisdom, justice and courage was one of the four core virtues of ancient pagan Greece and Rome. The benefits of moderation were also highlighted in the Christian Bible and Jewish Torah. In fact almost every successful religious and philosophical tradition from across the world and throughout history has stressed the importance of moderation:
- Confucius – “To exceed is as bad as to fall short.”
- Buddha – “Avoiding extremes, the middle way produces insight and wisdom, leading to tranquility and enlightenment.”
- Aristotle – “A master in any art avoids what is too much or too little.”
- Seneca – “Anything carried to excess is wrong.”
- Zhu Xi – “To practice the mean is the true way of the universe.”
- Benjamin Franklin – “Avoid extremes.”
- Mahatma Gandhi – “Extremes should always be avoided.”
Aristotle believed that moderation was the key to a virtuous and successful life. He observed that “excess and deficiency are related to vice, moderation to virtue – for we are good in only one way, but bad in many different ways.” For example, in response to a dangerous situation someone who unnecessarily exposes themselves and others to extreme risk is foolhardy; while a coward refuses to take even necessary and reasonable risks. It is the brave person who chooses the appropriate response between these two extremes. Some parents are overly indulgent, ultimately harming their children by spoiling, overprotecting and failing to challenge them. Other parents are overly harsh, damaging their children with unrealistic expectations, counterproductive rules and unnecessary punishments. It is the wise and just parents who avoid these extremes. Similarly in social situations we have all encountered boors – those people who take offense at everything and who take much of the joy out of even gentle humor. Conversely a buffoon knows no boundaries and may degrade themselves and others in a quest for a laugh. It is the witty person, who enjoys humor between these two extremes, that is a pleasure to joke with. A miser will hoard money and avoid spending even for simple pleasures, needed expenses or to help their friends and family. Conversely, a spendthrift spends any money available on frivolous pleasures or foolish pursuits and is ultimately impoverished. Think of almost any action or role you play in your day to day life and it is easy to see how either extreme may ultimately lead to harm, unhappiness or unfairness.
Today it is obvious that many of us could personally benefit from some moderation in our enjoyment of food, alcohol and other pleasures. It is also becoming ever more apparent that the loss of the middle ground and common sense in public life, coupled with the fading arts of accommodation and compromise on both the left and right, threatens to make our country ungovernable. I am sure we could all use a little more moderation in some aspect of our lives. However, don’t forget to cut loose occasionally and in the right circumstances. As Oscar Wilde, the 19th century Irish author said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation”.