How The Great Philosophers Relate to My Modern Family Life
Written by Jennifer Kelly
Being a warehouse store shopper, I often buy in bulk: toilet paper, laundry detergent, diapers and Cheerios are some of my routine purchases. I also have left the store with other bulk items in my cart–32 oz. of sour kraut, 5 lbs of chia seeds, bulk cuts of specialty cheeses, 64 oz. of powdered peanut butter, and 25 lbs of rice.
I’ve learned from these purchases. If you plant chia seeds into your compost pile, you will grow a chia pet in your garden. My children are slowly accepting that mac and cheese doesn’t have to be orange in order to taste good. And a google search affirmed that I’m not the only one searching for recipes that use powdered peanut butter.
Enough about my culinary adventures and returning to the question at hand—is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Let’s not embark on this question alone. Instead, I’ll reference the great thinkers in history and see what they have to offer on the subject. You know, Socrates, Aristotle, Buddha—the ones that pondered the mysteries and meanings of life without a smartphone or the convenience of running water. However, keep in mind they didn’t have the looming temptation of Costco.
This idea of inner balance and attaining inner peace is not a modern concept. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, discussed the idea of temperance or moderation in his theory of “The Golden Mean.” In Plato’s Republic, Socrates teaches that a man must know "how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side.” Moving East, in the 6th century BC, Buddha wrote The Noble Eightfold Path, where he taught the middle way, a path between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. History is rife with man’s search for this golden mean, this desire to reach an interior balance. Despite all the writing on balance or temperance, it remains an ideal towards which the human life still strives.
Why haven’t we advanced there yet? After all, humans have made multiple trips to the moon, split the atom, reduced infant mortality, and yet we still remain to find balance, temperance or the mean.
The Golden Mean is that interior balance of the soul when one finds the midway point between the extremes of excess and deficiency. The individual strives for the mean, the midway point throughout their life, consciously seeking to avoid too much of something yet keenly aware not to seek too little of something either. Think of a teeter totter (one of my least favorite park toys that secretly speaks to small children, bidding them to come and hurt themselves under the guise of play. But, I digress.) The teeter totter is a balancing game using the weight of children and the earth’s gravity. They sit on either end of the beam tottering back and forth on the axis or point in middle on which the beam balances. I can’t decide if kids really love this toy or if they love it due to the heightened attention paid to them when they play on it. Regardless, goal is a balanced life, devoid of excess or deficit. For instance, let’s take the idea of bravery. Taken in excess, bravery becomes recklessness or brash behavior. Whereas, a lack of bravery results in cowardliness. In either case, the goal is balance. Proportion. Harmony. As a testament to the importance of moderation, above the entrance to the temple at Delphi the ancients inscribed, “Meden Agan” which means, “Nothing in Excess.”
It’s tough to live a balanced life. Throw in kids, a spouse, jobs, pets and after-school activities and it seems almost impossible. However, there are little things we can do within our family lives to set our feet on the path of The Golden Mean.
First, a reminder of the family goals is always a positive start. Is this action going to help align my family to our long-term goals? Concretely put, sure, this 5-pound box of dates is on deep discount at Costco, but does my family need it? Do they even like dates? The example might seem trivial, however temperance or living a life in balance applies to all of our actions and decisions.
Another scenario. Tommy really, really wants the gooey monster toy that will end up leaving a permanent mark on my ceiling. His non-verbal communication right now is telling me that if he doesn’t get that toy, he might be experiencing his final breath. However, I could gently remind him through clenched teeth that he already has 3 of these toys and that anymore would be excessive. Tommy is under the age of reason, and so this line of thought might not be immediately grasp. However, by gradually introducing him to the idea of moderation and how we avoid excess he will become familiar with the idea of temperance.
Aspen loves her cookies. Chocolate chip are most favorite in the whole wide world—this is a direct quote. However, she has already enjoyed her serving and eating more would give her a stomach ache. She can have more later, but right now she doesn’t need anymore. By guiding her serving size, I’m showing her how to choose moderate portions that aren’t too much or too little but just right.
Life is intended to be lived well. As parents, we all want what is best for our brood. Over time, that may fluctuate or evolve. A life lived in moderation easily grows with your family. Striving for that golden mean or that balanced life is a lifelong art. It isn’t a box to check off on your to-do list, nor is it something purchasable. It is choice, daily renewed through our own actions intent on choosing to live a balanced life. And when we fall off that teeter totter, which we all will, we brush off the wood chips and try again.
Jennifer Kelly is a mom of four beautiful kids and a regular contributor to our blog. She resides in Denver, CO.