How often do you pursue the Golden Mean?

Today is July 11 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you pursue the Golden Mean?” The Golden Mean is defined as the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. It appeared in Greek thought at least as early as the Delphic maxim "nothing in excess" and emphasized in later Aristotelian philosophy. For example, in the Aristotelian view, courage is a virtue, but if taken to excess would manifest as recklessness, and, in deficiency, cowardice. Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well requires one to be agile in thought, disciplined in approach, and intentional in response. Being agile, disciplined, and intentional will allow one to know when to pursue the Golden Mean and when to use an extreme.

Pursuing the Golden Mean affords one the flexibility required to answer questions, resolve issues, and address problems as they arise while translating one dream after another into reality. Oscillating from one extreme to the next, all the while keeping the Golden Mean in site, can be a powerful strategy to use while navigating the chaos. Pursuing the Golden Mean provides one with the focus required to understand the extremes and the difference between abusing them and using them appropriately.

To illustrate the Golden Mean the example of a coward is a good reference point. During a crisis, when one fails to speak up, act, or attempt to resolve the situation they are demonstrating the characteristics of a coward. On the other hand, during a crisis when one uses reckless abandon to speak up, act, or resolve the situation, they are on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Golden Mean between being a coward and reckless abandon is courage. A courageous person is neither a coward nor a reckless abandon. This person, according to Aristotle, would be living a virtuous life and happy. They would be balanced having discovered the Golden Mean.

A modern reference to the Golden Mean can be found in Megan Garber’s July/August 2021 article “Top Gun Is an Informercial for America” published in The Atlantic. Reflecting upon the 35th anniversary of the film’s release, Garber wrote “To watch Top Gun now, freshly aware of how easily rugged individualism can take a turn toward the toxic, is to appreciate anew the film’s dicey feat: For its redemption story to land, its hero must be arrogant but not malignant, culpable but capable, infuriating but also easy to love. Maverick’s is a load-bearing charm. And his film’s willingness to pamper him raises still-fraught questions about selfish entitlement. Who gets the gift of multiple second chances, and who does not? Who has to follow the rules? Who is allowed to break them?”

For today’s Navigate the Chaos post, Garber poses some excellent questions to ponder related to the Golden Mean.

  • Where do you fall on the arrogance to malignant spectrum?

  • Are you culpable, capable, or can you find the Golden Mean?

  • Do you find yourself infuriating, easy to love or somewhere in the middle?

  • How often do you oscillate between each extreme depending upon the situation?

  • Are you even aware that there is a middle, the Golden Mean, of which you can work towards for each spectrum?

The art of living well takes a tremendous amount of discipline, devotion, and dedication over a lifetime. Knowing when to pursue the Golden Mean and when to leverage an extreme is an art and takes years of experience. In the ideal state, one is always in the Golden Mean, but life is seldom far from such a perfect state.

Middle Ages philosopher Maimonides contemplated the Golden Mean and wrote: "If a man finds that his nature tends or is disposed to one of these extremes..., he should turn back and improve, so as to walk in the way of good people, which is the right way. The right way is the mean in each group of dispositions common to humanity; namely, that disposition which is equally distant from the two extremes in its class, not being nearer to the one than to the other." Let’s reflect upon Maimonides observation as part of today’s reflection.

First, ‘if man finds his disposition to an extreme’ he should turn back and improve. This is a fascinating suggestion given the contemporary reliance, often blind ignorance, on the political extremes. Do you have the self-awareness to recognize your disposition is extreme? If not, what can you do to better see yourself? If so, do you possess the self-discipline to ‘turn back and improve?’ Doing so, of course, requires one to walk towards the other extreme in order to reach the middle, and along the way understanding you will encounter those who belief something different.

Second, Maimonides states that ‘the right way is the mean in each group.’ How difficult will it be for you to meet others in the center and join hands with them at the Golden Mean? How uncomfortable will it be for you to nudge away from the extreme and slide more towards the Golden Mean in order to engage in what Maimonides labeled ‘the right way’ of living and thinking? Practicing the art of living well requires us to constantly pursue the Golden Mean.

How often do you pursue the Golden Mean?