Thursday, April 19, 2018

Limits and Liberty ~ Chapter Two: The Golden Mean (of Virtue)

The Golden Mean @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Read Chapter One here.]

“It is better to rise from life as from a banquet -
neither thirsty nor drunken.” 


I’ve started doing yoga. What I’ve learned is what looks so very easy can be so very difficult.

Even when I’m not moving (especially when I’m not supposed to be moving).

It’s the balancing that gets me. It takes so much muscle control to remain still. I have constant checks (small and large) in one direction and then then other. Sometimes I completely lose any semblance of form and have to begin again.

Let’s return to our pendulum from chapter one. It feels great, at first, to swing from a place of oppression to a place of freedom, but some of us may have discovered that the swing away from tyranny brings us to a different form of slavery on the other extreme. Slavery to an over-loaded schedule, closet, or body, for example.

Seneca, the famous Stoic, wrote, “So-called pleasures, when they go beyond a certain limit, are but punishments…”

The solution seems so easy: just shed a few activities, pairs of shoes, or pounds.

But it takes an extraordinary amount of muscle control (and willingness to live in tension) to find that place of equilibrium and remain there. It’s a constant effort of self-imposed limits, and we’re easily tired by constant effort.

We make decisions. We second-guess ourselves. We give in to pleasure or convenience. We punish ourselves.

Aristotle, writing about ethics, examined moral behavior according to the “golden mean of virtue.” He argued that virtuous living is a balance within a sliding scale of deficiency and excess (the extremes). The deficiency and excess are both vices, and the golden mean is virtue.

“For both excessive and insufficient exercise destroy one’s strength, and both eating and drinking too much or too little destroy health, whereas the right quantity produces, increases or preserves it. So it is the same with temperance, courage and the other virtues… This much then, is clear: in all our conduct it is the mean that is to be commended.” [Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics]

True liberty is liberty from excess.

True liberty is liberty to choose virtue.

Not cowardice or recklessness, but courage.
Not stinginess or extravagance, but generosity.
Not sloth or greed, but ambition.
Not bashfulness or flamboyance, but modesty.
Not apathy or aggression, but patience.
Not indecisiveness or impulsiveness, but self-control.
Not starvation or gluttony, but sufficiency.
Not cacophony or monotony, but harmony.
Not tyranny or anarchy, but freedom.
Not laziness or obsessiveness, but perseverance.
Not uniformity or eccentricity, but individuality.
Not false-modesty or boastfulness, but truthfulness.
Not chaos or reginmentation, but order.
Not self-deprecation or vanity, but confidence.
Not quarrelsomeness or flattery, but friendliness.
Not moroseness or absurdity, but good humor.

In our culture’s quest for freedom, we think in terms of “freedom from” rather than “freedom to.” We want freedom from limits (seeking pleasure and happiness) instead of the freedom to do what we ought (seeking virtue and character).

“Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” - Pope John Paul II

Do I have a handle on this in my own life? Absolutely not. I’m just a shaky tree pose over here. You’ll hear me chanting “I am, I can, I ought, I will,” as I wobble, fall, and start again.

In upcoming posts, I’ll be sharing how the “golden mean” applies to various areas in my life.

:: Charlotte Mason’s Students Motto @ Ambleside Online

I am, I can, I ought, I will.”

:: Stratford Caldecott, Beauty in the Word

We imagine that the more choices we have, the freer we are. In reality, a multitude of choices makes us no freer than we were before unless we have the freedom (that is, the power, the ability) to choose between the right action and the wrong action... A myriad of evil choices is no choice at all.

:: Letter 39: On Noble Aspirations ~Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

Utility measures our needs; but by what standard can you check the superfluous?

It is for this reason that men sink themselves in pleasures, and they cannot do without them when once they have become accustomed to them, and for this reason they are most wretched, because they have reached such a pass that what was once superfluous to them has become indispensable.

And so they are the slaves of their pleasures instead of enjoying them; they even love their own ills, – and that is the worst ill of all! Then it is that the height of unhappiness is reached, when men are not only attracted, but even pleased, by shameful things, and when there is no longer any room for a cure, now that those things which once were vices have become habits.

:: The Virtuous Life: Moderation @ The Art of Manliness

This is certainly the answer society gives us for our restlessness, our boredom, our anxiousness, and unhappiness. The answer is always MORE. More stimulation. More sex, more movies, more music, more drinking, more money, more freedom, more food. More of anything is sold as the cure for everything. Yet paradoxically, the more stimulation we receive, the less joy and enjoyment we get out of it. The key to experiencing greater fulfillment and pleasure is actually moderation.

:: The Stoic Range of Virtue: In Defense of Moderation @ The Daily Stoic

As a society we pride ourselves on extremes. We flaunt how few hours of sleep we maintain, how insatiable we are in our careers, and how comfortable our lives are thanks to an excess of luxury goods. But the problem is that when we aspire to extremes, we also run the risk of taking our virtues too far, which collapse into their opposite–crippling flaws in character.

1 comment:

Windhover Farm said...

So thankful you carry on with sharing what you are learning and wrestling with. It stimulates and encourages despite the inadequacy you feel sometimes. Feel blessed to journey with you via the net.