In Praise of Moderation
To paraphrase Billy Joel, sometimes we go to extremes.
Have you ever said to someone you’d like them to do a little less of a certain behaviour, with the result that they never ever do it again? You might ask your partner if they could be a little more succinct when telling you what happened today at work because, while you want to know what happened, you also have to get the kids to bed soon…only to have them refuse to tell you anything that’s happening at work ever again! Or you’ve asked someone to turn off the television when they aren’t watching it because the constant noise is distracting you, so they do…and don’t turn it on again for the next two weeks.
I’m sure we’ve all been on both ends of this. Where is the moderation? I have recently discovered I shut down a whole side of my personality for years in the need to rebel against my parents’ conventional approach to life: dress modestly, get a job in an office, don’t stand out, don’t deviate from the norm. Instead I got married very young, wore hippie clothes, grew my hair till it was wild and unmanageable, and joined an extremist pentecostal church.
After leaving the church ten years later, I also left my marriage, travelled overseas for two years, then returned to Australia to work my way through university. Leaving school and getting a stable job, husband and mortgage could have put me ahead of the game by age 30, but instead I was living below the breadline in sharehouses, trying to make ends meet while I studied to make sure I never again had to take another office job or wear a suit.
Some of this has paid off, but a little moderation might have made my path more effective. I so actively avoided dressing up, having neat hair, getting a mortgage, working 9 to 5 and having a stable relationship to the point where I was cutting off my nose to spite my face.
Each year I attend a music festival where all the hippies come out to play. We all wear our tie-dyed bohemian garb, wind beads into our hair and emanate peace and flower power as the music plays and the rain turns the grounds into mud. Every year I would wonder where these people went for the rest of the year – why did I never come across them in my daily life? These were my tribe, my soul brothers and sisters, why couldn’t I find them outside the festival gates?
The answer, when it finally came, shocked me. These people practised their hippiedom in moderation. These multicoloured peace-loving folk were the very same people who wore suits to their downtown offices and worked 9 to 5 to pay their mortgages. I had always thought I would be betraying myself and selling out if I did any of these things, but as they say, the truth shall set you free.
Eventually I did buy myself a little townhouse by the bay and decided being a mortgagee wasn’t so bad after all. I cut my hair short, and discovered that not only did it suit me better, it was a whole lot less time consuming and easier to manage. And I discovered I actually like dressing up occasionally, it makes me feel all grown-up and gives me a self-esteem boost to know I look my best. Who knew?
There is a time to throw moderation to the wind – when you’re engaged in something you’re passionate about for example, or when avoiding something harmful. But overall we need balance and moderation gives us this. We have more options to choose from and more avenues to explore when we aren’t going to the extremes.
Most situations are not an either/or choice. Someone who is struggling with being too passive may feel that their attempts at assertiveness are coming over as aggression, when they are really just moving into the middle of the continuum – they are becoming more moderate. There are more choices than a) putting others’ needs ahead of our own or b) putting our own needs ahead of others. There’s the bit in the middle that gets overlooked, the part where we can choose to honour the needs of others while still honouring our own.
Passive ———————————————– Assertive——————————————Aggressive
[extreme ] ————————————– [moderate behaviour ] ——————————– [extreme]
Here are three suggestions for applying moderation to enhance your life:
Start describing yourself differently, for instance, instead of calling myself a hippie, I now think of myself of someone who has a hippie streak. This gives me the space to see myself in other ways as well, rather than pigeon-holing myself into that one category only and preventing me from making other choices when I want to.
Start thinking in the grey area, rather than all or nothing / black or white thinking. For example instead of thinking ‘if I’m not perfect at something I must be a failure at it’, you could think to yourself: ‘Like everyone I’m great at some things, and not so good at other things, and I can work on those things if they’re important to me’.
Another example is ‘if I’m taking some time out to rest and look after myself, I’m being lazy and selfish’, rather than: ‘I’m taking some time out for self-care which is a mature and responsible thing to do because it will make me more productive and efficient in the long-term’.
Being moderate doesn’t mean sitting on the fence or agreeing with everyone to avoid conflict. Moderation actually allows us to obtain a number of viewpoints, all of which have some truth in them. If we are extremely attached to one viewpoint, we can miss important points being made by someone with a different viewpoint. Try listening out for these alternatives and staying open to them.
I hope this will empower you to express more of who you are rather than closing parts of yourself down. As Julia Child said:
Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health.
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