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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?” Two Irish writers begin today’s reflection focused on moderation, also known as the Golden Mean. Oscar Wilde observed “Everything in moderation, including moderation” while Flann O'Brien noted “Moderation, we find, is an extremely difficult thing to get in this country.”

In order to leverage your mind, body, and spirit to translate one dream after another into reality, using the strategy of moderation, even though challenging at times, is certainly a viable option. Moderation is synonymous with 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 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. Like most of the daily strategies discussed in this series, pursuing the Golden Mean is no easy task as it requires a high degree of self-awareness, strict discipline, and attention to detail.

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?”

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. 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. 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 of dispositions common to humanity.’

  • How often do you pursue the Golden Mean?

  • How often do you contemplate using one of the extremes of the Golden Mean in any given situation?

  • 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?’

  • 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?

  • How often are you ‘arrogant but not malignant?’

  • How often are you ‘culpable yet capable?’

  • How often are you ‘infuriating but also easy to love?’

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