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Why is moderation considered a virtue?

by Christine Yu

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Every time I turn to social media, I brace myself. It’s like sitting in the front car of a rollercoaster, inching upward to the top and anticipating the big drop. I never know what I will find when I open Twitter or Facebook. Will I feel the rush of laughter from a meme or frustration from the latest hot take on politics?

Scrolling through my feed, I experience a full range of emotions in the span of mere minutes. The ups and downs are exhausting. What happened to the idea of moderation? Isn’t it supposed to be a virtue?

While we may heed the call of moderation when it comes to eating, drinking, and other healthy habits (or at least we try to), it seems to have lost its resonance in other areas of our lives.

Moderation as a virtue

Self-restraint, “taking the middle road”, temperance. Everyone thinks they know what moderation means or what it means to be a moderate. But Aurelian Craiutu, Ph.D., professor of political science at Indiana University and author of “Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance in an Age of Extremes”, says that the concept is shrouded in mystery and often misunderstood.

The idea of moderation can be traced back to Ancient Greece. According to Craiutu, Aristotle considered moderation a moral virtue and Plato, in “The Republic”, described moderation as the harmony between reason, spirit, and desire. “It’s the disposition of the soul where reason, spirit, and desire are in agreement,” says Craiutu. “It’s more than just temperance. It’s harmony.” The concept is also present in many religious traditions including Confucianism, Buddhism, and Christianity in terms of temperance and self-restraint.

In other words, moderation is considered a virtue because we think it will protect us from giving into our desires and going too far in indulging our passions.

A virtue for the courageous

But it’s not easy to take the middle road—it actually takes a lot of courage to be a true moderate, says Craiutu. “It presupposes balance and harmony, and those are difficult to achieve,” he says. “It’s far easier to give into our appetites. It’s not an easy virtue.”

In fact, Craiutu says it’s a virtue for courageous minds. “To look for balance means to listen to all sides and not be dogmatic. That means sometimes you can be on the left, sometimes in the center, and sometimes on the right,” he says. “That’s a position that’s difficult to defend, especially in the political arena because people want ideological consistency. You may be labeled a flip-flopper or a traitor.”

What it means to be moderate

What does it mean to be a true moderate? Craiutu explains that there are three main principles of moderation:

1. Do your homework

“Before you can be for or against something, try to get the facts right,” says Craiutu. “Don’t work with alternative facts.” That means listening to all sides, understanding the issue, and keeping an open line of dialogue—especially with those who may disagree with you.

2. Think pragmatically

And don’t think strictly ideologically. “Thinking ideologically means you’re thinking by the book. You’re not carefully considering facts but following certain signposts,” says Craiutu. “Try to find something that goes beyond factional interest. Raise yourself above the fray.”

3. Consider the context

Craiutu also emphasizes that moderation isn’t a virtue for all seasons. “You don’t defend moderation when there’s a dictator or case of discrimination,” he says. “When you have too much inequality, you need to make sure that it doesn’t overturn the whole ship and that doesn’t mean being in the center.”

The idea of moderation is not just blindly walking down the center of the road. “It’s like a tightrope walker,” says Craiutu. “Sometimes you have to lean to the right. Sometimes you have to lean to the left.” You’re constantly shifting where you stand.

This piece was produced in partnership with Nike Training Club. To get started on your fitness journey, download the NTC app here.

Christine Yu

Christine Yu is a freelance writer based in New York City. She’s written about health, wellness and lifestyle for publications including The Washington Post, Runner’s World, Women’s Health and Redbook. Find her on Twitter @cyu888.

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