All Things in Moderation

Posted by Anthony E. Steele II on 11/25/2020


In the pursuit of producing well-rounded and prepared graduates, we must go beyond the world of academia and career studies. It is also our mission to teach our students important life skills and traits such as good citizenship, character, leadership, and organization just to name a few. Let us focus on one such life skill: BALANCE.

No doubt we have all heard the phrase, “all things in moderation” or some variant of it. My earliest recollection of this sage-like advice was from my grandmother. She was a fountain of proverbs and life lessons, and a younger me credited her as the original source. Later in life, I learned that the origin of the phrase traces back to ancient Greeks like Hesiod, Plautus, and Aristotle. I would also learn that the phrase, “all things in moderation” is more of an idiom than a proverb as it is not to be taken literally. Nonetheless, there is something metaphorically valuable in that phrase as it has endured for thousands of years. In short, it reminds us of the importance of balance in our lives.

There are some interesting observations about the human condition, and more pointedly, about our cultural values. We seem to be ever adrift toward the temptation of gluttony and extremism. If a large soda is appealing, then the Super Size or Big Gulp is even more appealing. Who doesn’t need a half-gallon of Mountain Dew with their triple bacon burger? If we are shopping for Aspirin, I don’t know why I would buy regular strength when there is extra strength, or better yet, double strength, right next to it on the shelf. Who has time to be fooling around with regular strength anything? We are in love with the concept of superlatives — if one is good, two is better. We have a similar affinity for the smallest, the lightest, and the most compact, particularly as it applies to things like electronics and items we wear and carry. Our affinity for the extreme is a concept that marketing and advertising industries know all too well. We also have the incredible ability to have things practically on-demand with the advent of services like Amazon, fast food chains, drive-up windows, and e-commerce.

Interestingly, the phrase “all things in moderation” is commonly heard in the context of one’s diet, but metaphorically it applies to all things for which we have an appetite — goods, services, entitlements, and expectations. The concept of gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity, refers to more than just an overindulgence of food — it applies to all that is desirable. In humankind’s earliest writings, there is evidence that the temptation of gluttony has always been part of the human experience. Fortunately, we have an awareness of this, but we also need to be reminded to practice restraint. Said awareness is not uniquely human, but a delay of gratification is a rare higher order skill among living creatures. For example, any equestrian will tell you that we must protect our four-legged friends from finding an unattended apple bin lest they may snack themselves to death — the delay of gratification is an unknown concept to a horse.

I mentioned earlier that “all things in moderation” should be considered an idiom because one should not take the phrase literally. There are certainly times when we want nothing in moderation; for example, no one wants a moderate amount of COVID. Likewise, there are times when excess, even obsession, is healthy and necessary. This is where passion, dedication, and excellence intersect with the concept of moderation. Imagine if Mozart’s parents nagged that he was overindulging in his music, or Nikola Tesla was admonished for reading too much as a child. Sometimes obsession and excess are good things, which brings us back to the concept of balance, and more to the point of this article: How do we help our youngsters conceptualize and achieve balance? We need to guide and teach them to approach decisions as a thought process — an internal analysis and negotiation. Furthermore, like any successful negotiation, a compromise must be reached between desire, indulgence, sound reasoning, and practicality.

I fear that the penalty for not learning and practicing moderation is a recipe for unhappiness and lost potential. Without “all things in moderation,” will we not spiral toward an insatiable appetite for something perceived to be bigger and better? Do we start to lose our ability to moderate in general? Looking at the political landscape in 2020, I never remember a time of such staunch polarization and political encampment. Perhaps this is a coincidence, perhaps not, but the middle — the moderate — seems to have all but disappeared in American politics. Extremism is in vogue. Does anyone still buy regular Aspirin? I hope so.

I also hope that we can teach our students what the adults in my life taught me as a kid. I have a renewed appreciation for those silly idioms and phrases preaching moderation and those adult oversights such as not allowing me to eat the entire pillowcase full of candy on Halloween night. Young or old, I think it’s never a bad time to be reminded, “all things in moderation!” Please take a moment to celebrate the middle, or at least appreciate its existence.”