“Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.” – Cicero
“Moderation in all things.” – Terence
“It is better to rise from life as from a banquet – neither thirsty nor drunken.” – Aristotle
As the result of a couple of recent conversations, I’ve been thinking about moderation. One conversation was about food, and the other about being sensitive to one’s environment, and they struck me as both being related to our physical health. While pondering this, I’ve also extrapolated to other areas of life, for example, empathy and emotions.
In these conversations, I perceived a duality being offered up: some people are advocating, for example, eating whatever you want in the moment (or allowing one’s children to do so) and trusting that a balance will naturally be found. Another approach is to regulate very carefully what you ingest (in these conversations, the choices being discussed range from organic vegan food to raw foods and pure spring water to sugar- and gluten-free options, depending on the person’s beliefs). It seems to me that moderation may serve us better.
An example: I know people who eat a lot of processed, high-salt and high-sugar foods. They also get sick frequently with colds and flus. From my perspective, perhaps their bodies aren’t receiving enough vitamins and nutrition to keep their immune systems strong. I’ve also met people on strict diets (varying by person) who become ill when they choose to eat something different, say at a party or gathering outside their home. It seems to me that their bodies are no longer able or willing to adapt to foods that are outside their “norm.” Either way, it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable to have a cold or headache or stomach pains.
Another example: in modern society, we’ve learned that the spread of germs can compromise our immune system and give us a greater chance to become ill from viruses and bacteria. However, this can be taken too far. If you live in a near-sterile environment, relying on antibacterial soaps, sprays and hand sanitizers, your body forgets how to deal with germs. Sooner or later, you go out in public or to another person’s home and suddenly you’re sick for the next couple of days.
For me, being very sensitive (what I would call, for myself, oversensitive) to others’ emotions hasn’t helped me to find joy. I was once incredibly shy, and what I wanted most was to have friends. Yet going to parties or initiating conversations was extremely difficult. As I’ve grown older, I’ve adapted to my surroundings such that I can enjoy situations that I would have once found painful or uncomfortable. I didn’t go to the extreme of deciding that others’ feelings don’t matter. Yet I learned that I don’t need to take every emotion I sense in others personally, either. I know that it’s more compassionate, in the long run, for me to continue to be centered and offer my help from that balanced place when possible and appropriate. It’s a matter of moderation.
As someone who chooses to be out in the world, interacting with a variety of people in different settings, moderation helps me to live more joyfully. If I wanted to be absolute about certain beliefs, I could choose a lifestyle that supports that. Some fundamentalists of varying religions only socialize with others of like mind, and that’s their choice, of course. Monks and nuns choose to express their beliefs in a sheltered place where they can remain very focused on certain aspects of their spiritual life. But if we choose to explore the world, moderation may serve us well, helping us to stay centered as we adapt to the varying circumstances we discover along the way.