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WEEK 16: Being temperate

See this cardinal virtue in your life 

Home > #3- Practice > Week 16 – Being temperate

As you stay on track with your habituation plan, this week you will focus on the cardinal virtue of temperance. This week is also a feedback point with your critical friend and you will find instructions at the bottom of this page on what to do

Habituation check

Before you engage with the content for this week, take a moment for a habituation check.

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Combining the right proportions

Let’s start by defining what temperance is. In English, the word ‘temperance’ comes from the Latin temperare, which literally means ‘to combine in the right proportions’.  It was used, for example, to describe the right combination of colours for an artist, the right proportions of herbs in a recipe or for the right combination of warm and cold water.

Consider each of these examples further. Imagine an artists who desires to paint a deep blue sea, but adds too much black to her palette, producing a horribly dark result.  Or imagine a cook who puts the amount of garlic needed for 100 portions of sauce into 2 portions. Again, the result will be distasteful.  And what about the right proportions of hot and cold water,  where a mistake on either side can easily lead to an ‘intemperate’ shower?

When it comes to temperance in your character, there are things that need to be combined in the right proportions.  Having fun is a good thing, but it needs to be proportioned with moderation.  Orderliness is a virtue, but it needs to be proportioned with flexibility.  Spending your money on entertainment is great, but it needs to be proportioned with wise savings to pay our bills.

And so on in all areas of life:  you need right proportions in your relationships, in caring for your desires, in your sexuality, in your work habits, in your political involvement, in handling your emotions, in making choices, in handling your reactions, in speaking, in eating and drinking, in enjoying art, in practicing sports, and so on…

In brief, temperance is that virtue that keeps good things from going overboard.

In some languages the word ‘temperance’ has widely have fallen into disuse.  It is surely the case in English. If this is the case, then you can use the synonyms  ‘moderation’ and ‘self-control’ which broadly convey the same meaning.  If you want to have a few moments of fun, try searching for ‘self-control memes’ on the internet.

Is the virtue of temperance in your character?

When the virtue of temperance is at work in your character, you will:

  1. Be able to govern yourself through reason.  That means that your actions and words are not driven by passion, desire and impulse alone.
  2. Be content with your state. This means that you inwardly at rest.
  3. Be able to tame your impulses and appetites. This simply means that you can say ‘no’ or ‘enough’ when necessary.

As we have seen, there is a rich cluster of synonyms for temperance. Moderation is the virtue that regulates your attraction to pleasure and balances your use of the good things in creation. Self-control is the virtue whereby you are the owner of yourself, and able to tame your will to produce right action. Self-discipline is the virtue that allows you to ‘force’ yourself to do what you do not want to do, or not to do what you might be tempted to do.  Abstinence is the virtue of governing your passions and desires and doing without that which is out of proportion.

Meekness is also an interesting virtue that is not usually associated with temperance.  We think, in fact of a meek person, as a person who is quiet and remissive.  That is not however the true meaning of meekness, which instead has to do with being self-possessed in mitigating your anger.  Meekness is, in fact, defined as the middle ground between the opposing vices of irascibility and indifference in the presence of evil.

Does this describe you? If so, well done, you are a temperate person.

The opposing vices

There are also several vices that oppose the virtue of temperance. These can be divided in the vices of defect and of excess.

The vices of defect are those where you do not have enough temperance. These are the vices of licentiousness and self-indulgence, seen, for example, in the capital sins of gluttony, where there is no control in our relationship to food, or in lust, where there are no limits placed on sexual impulses.

The vices of excess are those where you have too much temperance.  This may seem paradoxical but it is possible that trying to get the right proportions goes too far. This can be seen for example in the vices of continual self-denial or unwarranted asceticism in which all pleasure is avoided.  Facing life with the ambition of having total control can also become the vice of obsession, and lead to personality disorders such as that of compulsion-obsession (OCD).

Do any of these describe you?  If they do, and if your score in the Virtue Test was low in the virtue of temperance, then should work on the virtue of temperance in your character.

An story of intemperance

Today’s story comes from ancient Greek mythology and is about King Midas. He was very rich, and had more gold than anyone else in the world. And yet, he was deeply unhappy because he always wanted more.

The only other joy in his life was his beautiful daughter Marygold. Who, incidentally, cared nothing about gold.

One day a stranger (the god Dionysus) appeared to King Midas and offered him the gift of turning anything he touched into gold.  The king accepted this greedily and went about touching everything at hand, which, to his delight, turned to gold.   But the gift could not be turned off.  When he tried to eat, his peach turned to gold.  And when he tried to drink, his wine turned to gold.

And as the tragedy began to unfold, his daughter Marygold ran to him distraught because he had turned her beautiful roses into cold gold.  The king tried to comfort her, but she, unaware of the new danger her father represented, threw her arms around him  and was turned into a lifeless statute of gold.

And so the king, who in his intemperance sought everything, in the end lost everything.

Engage your character friend

You may recall that in Week 13 you reached out to a character friend as part of your plan for practice.  This week you will need to meet with your friend for a second time.

Here is a suggested outline for your time together:

  1. Give account of your habituation plan.
  2. Talk about the virtue of temperance that you have considered this week.  Share your victories and failures in regards.  Send them a link to the story of king Midas and discuss it together, reasoning on its meaning and applying it to your lives.  Don’t forget to ask your friend for critical input around this virtue in your life.
  3. If time allows, do the same with the virtue of humility that you considered in Week 15.

Additional resources

You are working on phase #3 – Practice.  Here is the next activity >  Week 17 being courageous

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