(The Cardinal Virtues Part Two)
Temperance by Baroque artist Luca Giordano
I remember my first hangover. I was twenty-five, and I thought to myself, “This feels like I have a head cold. My face feels all hot and flushed. My nose is stuffed up, and I'm tired. I'm not doing this again.”
Less than a month later I did it again, and had the same results. Since then I'd not had a hangover. I have the occasional drink, but never to excess. I guess that makes me an aberration, because in America people pride themselves on how much they can drink, and how drunk they can get. I remember in high school I'd overhear kids brag about how “F—ed up” they were going to get on Friday night. It almost seemed to be a place of pride for them to get so plastered they'd not remember their own zip code.
We all go through that phase when we first start drinking. After a while we learn that drinking isn't about the destination, it's about the journey. You can enjoy a fine glass of scotch if you've bolted it down. For that matter, you can't enjoy a mixed drink if you chug it like Kool-Aid. Instead, of saying, “Oh, YEAAAAH,” you'll be calling your friend Ralph on the porcelain phone.
Drinking to excess is one thing.
Living to excess is another.
Not to sound preachy here, but I do live in a country where excess is praised and encouraged. “Go big, or go home!” is a not just a slogan, it's a mantra. We are even taught to admire those who have more, while ignoring those who have less. Bigger, better, faster, stronger, hipper; that's the American way.
But is that way killing us slowly?
Sure, we can demonize fast food all we want. We can demonize consumerism, and any kind of system that encouraged the “take, take, take,” mentality. Ultimately, we are then shifting the blame to a system, or a corporation. We can blame the Big Mac for an extended waistline, instead of ourselves. It makes for a convenient scapegoat; especially since Ronald McDonald is one scary clown. However, to do so we no longer take responsibility for our own eating habits. Instead, we assume that we are mindless creatures who must feed and never be replete. In that essence we cast ourselves as zombies. Though we live in a culture where we are expected to consume and consume again, we don't have to live like that. You do have a choice.
A common pattern that I've noticed with the Cardinal Virtues is that they are not alien to human nature. While they may seem divinely appointed, they really are not. We possess each of the four qualities (and the bonus three “theological virtues”) to some extent. They seem to be built into our nature. The problem is that we often shut them off. The safety device that tells us, “you've gone too far,” is often ignored.
That is where temperance comes into play. It lets us know when we've gone to excess, and have lost control. We then need to ask ourselves, “How much is enough?” How much drinking is enough? How much sex is enough? How much sleep is enough? How much food is enough? How much money is enough? The answers to these questions will vary per person. Some people need more sleep than others. Some people are fine with an occasional drink. Some people need more or less sex than others.
The problem with our culture is that it tries to impose a standard that says, “You all need to do what everyone else is doing, or else there's something wrong with you.” That then becomes a sort of monkey-see-monkey-do mentality. The result is that we have people who are not only trying to keep up with the Joneses, they are also trying to replicate them. The end result is that the person winds up losing themselves in the process.
That's another discussion, for another time. What level temperance a person needs varies. What we cannot allow to lapse is the need for temperance. In a country where a new gadgets and devices are pumped out every second it seems, we often forget that. We forget that having the newest isn't the same as having the best. Likewise, we often forget, as Mies Van Der Rohe pointed out, “Less is more.”
If temperance can be summed up by any phrase, it is that quote.
Excess is the real problem at hand. We don't always need more to be better. We need to be a better versions of ourselves, or else more will not suffice. Temperance suggests that we do not try to fill the void in our lives with more, and more, and more. Instead, we get what we need, and learn to utilize what we have. I'm not against buying a new computer when an old one is on the blink. But what I am against is just buying something new for the sake that it is new, and not needed or wanted. Wanting is one thing, but actually needed something, or even desiring it past the trendy aspect is another. Trends themselves are a way of trying to fill the void, and finding out that one is still hungry.
To live well is a good thing. In order to do that, one must have over-indulge. This can be practiced at any financial level, or social level. One doesn't need the most expensive, the biggest, or the most popular. One needs to meet their needs, whatever they may be, and then proceed from there. If not, then one will never be satisfied.
Copyright J.X. Joyce 2016