A glass of wine a day is all right according to most health experts. A bottle of whiskey a day is not all right. A cup of coffee a day is all right according to most health experts. Six cups of coffee a day is not so good.
Moderation, not just in what we eat and drink, but in all we do, is the key. Ancient sages have agreed on it. Buddha spoke about the middle way. He suggested that people be neither too self-indulgent nor too self-sacrificing. Lao Zi said, “He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.” Socrates noted, “Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live.
These days we seem to have forgotten about moderation. We are a divided culture, divided between rich and poor, and a disappearing middle class. We are divided politically, with the political left and the political right each becoming more extreme and more combative—which was demonstrated most recently by the battle over Brett kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation. We are divided by race, by ethnic group, by gender.
Many of my therapy clients are caught up in the divisiveness. During the Kavanaugh hearings they were either leftists who were spewing out rage for weeks during the hearings, or they were on the right and they were also angry. Early on in the Second Wave of feminism the slogan was, “The personal is political.” This seems to be the case now for most people. They are completely caught up in the political and have not only forgotten about their personal selves but also have lost sight of moderation.
When one is caught up in an extreme path, they will choose sides. They will choose one side or the other and be at war with the other side. Or an extreme path may cause them to be to self-indulgent or too self-sacrificing. Or an extreme path may give rise to impulsiveness or rigidity. Any extreme path leads to diminished health.
If one has an extreme ambition to succeed and fears failure, one lives in a high state of stress. If one is on the political extremes, left or right, one also lives life at a high state of stress. When you are involved in a fight, you must always keep your guard up and this brings with it a rise in blood pressure, and over-abundance of stress hormones in your body, an abnormal release of sugar, and a weakening of the immune system. All of these things lead to more diseases.
On the other hand, when one is moderate, one is more emotionally calm and one is less likely to have high blood pressure or be flooded with stress hormones. Also one is likely to sleep better, eat better and take better care of their bodies. One is also less prone to act out in destructive ways, such as over-drinking, over-eating or maxing out their credit cards.
And yet, even though most people know these things, they are unable to go to a moderate place. Physicians who work with people who have diabetes, for example, have a hard time getting them to cut down on foods with sugar in them, because they have a lifetime habit of eating them. Also they have a resistance to doing what they need to do to be healthy, perhaps because they see it as impinging on their freedom. And so they continue to eat sugary food until their body starts to develop problems and a leg needs to be amputated. Alcoholics continue to drink despite a doctor’s warnings and eventually develop liver problems. They just cannot stop.
It may be the same with people who can’t stop taking sides in the national left-right dispute and continue to communicate in ways that are counterproductive. If both sides became more moderate and were able to have a mutually respectful dialog, the dispute might have a change to be resolved. But neither side seems capable of budging, and so the divide grows wider instead of resolving, and the destructive communication continues.
That humanity itself is out of control is evident by the impending global warming, disappearing rain forests, ocean, river and air pollution, not to mention the ever-present threat of war and more specifically nuclear war. These are all signs of humanity being out of control and of humanity not being able to control itself and be moderate. It is easy to make New Year’s resolutions such as, “I’m going to drink less…I’m going to eat a healthy diet…I’m going to relax more…” But it isn’t easy to do.
Can a person will himself or herself to be moderate? Apparently not. Moderation is not glamorous, nor is it immediately gratifying. It is more gratifying to eat that bowl of ice cream, more immediately gratifying to destroy an enemy with condescension, more immediately gratifying to fill our cars with gasoline and drive wherever we want. It is easier and more gratifying to indulge ourselves, to bark out our anger, to do whatever we want when we want, then to curtail ourselves.
No, people cannot will moderation. They can only work on becoming moderate by talking to themselves in a calm voice from some corner of their minds. They can only tell themselves, over and over, why moderation is the key to contentment, good health and a harmonic life. If you have the help of a health professional, that is all the better. Becoming moderate, it turns out, is one of the hardest things to become.