Sunday, January 26, 2014

Inner Balance

A lot of modern culture is built around the assumption that, in the case of anything good, more is better. But, of course, that's patently false. Positive emotions are very good. But that doesn't mean that we need an unbalanced diet of glee each day.

The holiest spot in ancient Greece, the Oracle at Delphi, greeted visitors with two pieces of advice inscribed in marble. The first, perhaps the single most famous injunctive in human history was the simple imperative, "Know Yourself." The second was the much lesser known, but equally important, prescriptive, "Nothing in Excess." Pilgrims to the Oracle would go away from reading these two inscriptions with the understanding that they should be asking then, and throughout their lives, "What's the right balance point, or proper measure of anything, for me?" They might also be encouraged to ask: "What's important to me?" And: "What's enough for me?"

In our inner lives, excess is seldom helpful and healthy, and especially, over time. Bursts of excitement are wonderful. There's nothing wrong with occasions for indulgent ecstasy. But is more always better? We ought to be asking questions like: What's excessive in my inner life right now? How can I avoid it? What's the proper balance, in my values, attitudes, emotions, aspirations, and thoughts, as well as in my outer actions and activities? The inner should really come first. It's responsible for the outer. When we get that right, we stand a chance of getting other things right. So when you notice something about your outer activities that seems out of balance, look within as the first step toward righting things. Engage in the Socratic act of self-examination. But not, of course, excessively.

- Tom Morris

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