Blog # 37   EXTREME MODERATION   (“Generally Speaking” redux)

It should not be judged immoderate to again proclaim the statement that there is no generalized formula for successful life and living; no stated guide suitable for every individual and every nuanced occasion. As stressed in blogs, ##11 and 34, some of these seemingly sage prescriptions for living have limited use and then, only in their selective and judicial application.

One such seemingly salutary and even-handed admonition may be among the most misleading. While it appears wise and certainly harmless, this apparently vanilla statement is therefore, insidious and harmful. The statement is “Moderation in all things.” All things?

The greatest of all the ancient Greek tragedians, Sophocles, in all of his plays, uniformly stressed the instructive theme of “sophrosyne  (moderation ).The tragic heroes of his plays  were always  men, usually  kings, who suffer great and unspeakable loss occasioned by  hubris,  excess of passion. The ancient Greek audience was taught moderation through cathartic identification with the tragic hero.

Sophocles must have intended the goal of sophrosyne to apply, exclusively, to excess emotion and passion; even he, I trust,  would not prescribe moderation for all of life’s experiences.

Certainly, excesses in anything, even good things is harmful; a breakfast bowl of oatmeal is nourishing and good; five pounds of oatmeal per diem would have tragic results. Unfortunately, sometimes the judgment of “excessive” is subjective and personal; nevertheless, “moderation” as a (universal) rule is ipso facto erroneous.

There are, in fact, many aspects of life which would suffer under the banner of moderation; moderate love of spouse and family, moderate zeal in the pursuit of knowledge and science, moderate loyalty, moderate honesty and morality, moderate care and attention, moderate empathy.  These examples, among many others, would lead to inadequate, faulty or cruel results.

There are, of course, many instances where moderation is a good guide; in such instances as temper and reactive behavior, expectations, justice (moderated with mercy), ambition, driving speed and diet.

Formulas are for chemistry and physics, not for human behavior.


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Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

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