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The Case for Moderation

Examples of when moderation is wise.

 Vicky Barsky/Pixy, CC0
Source: Vicky Barsky/Pixy, CC0

True, Aristotle’s extolling of moderation has survived the millennia. But that "Golden Mean" seems to be outweighed today by a preference for extremism—yes, political but also otherwise.

As a small antidote, I offer these examples of where more moderation might be wise.

That said, we all appropriately choose to be moderate or extreme on a case-by-case basis, and that personalization likely should trump the arguments for moderation.

Viewpoints. The term “inclusion” should include people whose views are both right and left of center, even perspectives quite far from center. Of course, I’m not talking about white supremacists nor Stalinesque Communists, but all wisdom doesn’t cluster near the middle. For example, a legitimate case can be made for both a more socialist society as well as for a more free-market one with a small government. The positions of the Biden administration, for example, on immigration, climate change, and race, have benefits and liabilities, all worthy of respectful consideration.

Love. Smothering your loved ones benefit neither you nor them. Balance connectedness and giving with time for self-gratification, other relationships, and solohood. That applies to romantic relationships, parenting, family relations, and friendships: Neither give nor take too much.

Personal appearance. I know a very capable person who spends 90 minutes every morning getting ready to face the world. That person might cut that in half and spend the time more beneficially.

Your home's appearance. While we all want our home to feel attractive and comfy, too many people devote a helluva lot of time and money to create House Beautiful. Of course, your home shouldn't be a candidate for Hoarders, but if your roommate leaves dishes in the sink or underwear on the floor, it’s not cause for World War III.

Meals. It's easy to whip up meals that are healthy, inexpensive, and delicious. Perhaps because some people are looking for time to kill, they spend many hours each week shopping, chopping, cooking, and cleaning up elaborate meals. A salad of faves, broiled meat, well-spiced veggies, favorite bread, and yogurt with fresh fruit for dessert, is indeed fast, healthy, inexpensive, and tasty. Again, this is merely a call to moderation: Occasionally tackling an enticing, elaborate recipe may well be worth it.

Lest it be said that this advice is unrealistic for people who live in a so-called "food desert," I have seen families of obese people stroll by a market or supermarket to a nearby fast-food restaurant. Healthy, easy-to-prepare items such as the aforementioned are available affordably everywhere from a small market in a low-income area to a gourmet supermarket in the suburbs.

Most dieters regain it all back and perhaps more. We all have a biologically influenced set point. Unless you're obese, focus on moderation in eating and body acceptance. Apart from the wisdom of that, it has become passé to be fashion-mag skinny.

Work excellence. Of course, the person who forgoes work-life balance in favor of mastery, whether a psychotherapist, vaccine distributor, or tradesperson, is to be venerated. But if you are rather fungible and especially if your outside-of-work alternatives are compelling, for example, child rearing or voluntarism, moderation may be wise.

Also deserving of moderation is how you tackle tasks. Sure, the master craftsperson might want to put aside moderation in favor of creating a masterwork, but in general, it’s wise to use moderation’s gas pedal: Some tasks require a light touch, working slowly so as to ensure high quality, while other projects deserve pedal-to-the-metal.

Communication. My most quoted advice is to use two communication rules of thumb that ensure moderation. The first is the traffic-light rule: During an utterance’s first 30 seconds, your light is green. In the next 30, it’s yellow: the chance increases that the person wishes you’d stop. And after 60, your light is red and you should stop to give the other person a chance and to avoid seeming self-absorbed. The second rule of thumb is the 30-50 Rule. In a two-person conversation, talk a little less than half the time: 30 to 50%, the rest in active-listening mode.

You'll be more respected if you balance seriousness with humor. We may smile at the jokester or pollyanna but internally, we may believe s/he's trying too hard. Similarly, the overly sober person may be viewed as lacking fair-minded perspective.

Finally, show your abilities so as to benefit others and do what do you well. But be cautious about doing it so much that you appear to be a showoff, impervious to making other people feel inferior.

Spending. Spending on basics is unarguable: decent housing, transportation, and food. Fortunately, as mentioned, some of the least expensive food—for example, fruits, veggies, and chicken—are among the healthiest. But it’s tough to defend extreme spending, for example, on a tony zip code, fancy furniture, diamond vs. CZ, or on all but the most prestigious private colleges: There’s little or no evidence they cause better outcomes than, for example, starting at a community college and transferring to a state university. I must admit to looking down at people who wear a $1,000 Rolex when an attractive, equally accurate Casio costs 20 bucks. Consider moderation in spending. You'll have greater financial security and freedom to do work you enjoy.

Investing. There’s a reason why some bonds offer a much higher interest rate. Typically, it's because high-yield, so-called junk, bonds have greater risk of default. Of course, people’s risk tolerance varies, but most are wise to aim toward moderation rather than investing most of your money in one place, especially something volatile like a junk bond, high-flyer stock, or Bitcoin. Personally, my largest investment, other than our home, is in Vanguard Growth Index Fund: It’s a weighted average of the best performing of the S&P 500 companies, the world’s most prestigious, which tend to attract top talent. And that fund gets me all that high-quality diversification for an annual fee of just 1/20 of 1%.

Meditation. I know people who meditate two hours a day and go on weekend, even week-long, meditation retreats. It would seem that beyond a modest amount of time, say 10 minutes in the morning, 20 in the evening, the benefits of additional meditation are likely outweighed by the opportunity cost: what you could otherwise do with the time. One moderate's view.

Spirituality. Humankind has always needed something to believe in that’s larger than day-to-day life. But religious extremism takes a toll both on an individual’s quality of life as well as spawning enmity, including wars.

If you want to incorporate religion into your life, assess your point of diminishing returns: Perhaps you’d derive most of religion’s benefits with fewer of its liabilities by not taking all Scripture literally or demanding full compliance lest you face an eternity in purgatory or worse. Or you might decide that walking with God is important but attending a house of worship is not. Or maybe you'd just get involved in a church or synagogue's social or volunteer activities. Another approach to spiritual moderation is to join the increasing number of Americans and Western Europeans who are trading religion for a non-deistic spirituality, for example, secular humanism. That involves staying conscious of and pursuing actions, personal and societal, that will benefit your sphere of influence if not the world.

So, is there at least one of the aforementioned areas in which you'd like to be more moderate?

I explore this topic for 30 minutes on YouTube.

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