In these times, moderation is not exactly a very popular value. In the society of appearances, we feel the urgent need to show off – the more, the better. In the culture of “human rights”, it is easy to believe ourselves superior falling into arrogance. Children of a dichotomous model of thought, it is tempting to opt for the extremes.
In this context, moderation loses ground, giving way to a discourse that dangerously tilts the balance towards extremism. The media put their grain of sand striving to show and extol what is different. Moderation does not make news and does not seem attractive. However, that lack of moderation ends up taking its toll on us – both personally and socially. A look at the wisdom of Ancient Greece gives us another perspective to live more serenely.
Hýbris, excesses and arrogance
The ancient Greeks called “hýbris” the state of pride, excess and arrogance, generally the product of an excessive ego. In fact, that word used to be used in the context of theater to refer to people who steal the scene.
It is also linked to mythology as the goddess Hýbris was the personification of insolence and lack of restraint. In the end, the word hýbris was used to refer to people who believed they were superior, with more rights than others, and who used to go beyond the laws, not only the explicit ones but also the implicit ones that marked the limits of coexistence.
Today, of those people we would say that they suffer from hubris syndrome. They are people who go beyond everything because they believe they have the right to do so, without taking into account the rights of the others. People who push the limits of their freedom by invading the freedom of the others. People, in short, who live in excess.
However, these excesses do not usually make them happy, but rather condemn them to a loop of permanent dissatisfaction. They need more and more. They want to differentiate themselves. Stand out. Feel better. Those urges often lead to compulsive, individualistic, and isolationist practices. They settle on the extremes and create bubbles that confirm their points of view and vision of the world, breaking the ties to maintain authentic human relationships.
Aristotle’s Greek mesòtes: In medio stat virtus
The Greeks provide the solution: the mesòtes. Aristotle, for example, was one of the philosophers who most defended this concept, which refers to the balance between the two extremes. The Greek mesòtes alludes to notions such as the center or middle, but also to mediation, impartiality and neutrality.
In a world that practically “forces” us to position ourselves, to be for or against absolutely everything, this concept has fallen into oblivion. However, it is increasingly important to rediscover serenity and facilitate tolerance.
Homer, for example, believed that moderation is the most important and proper virtue, so he advocated a frugal and self-sufficient life. Seneca, for his part, said that “the same in wine as in freedom, moderation is healthy.”
Reaching the Greek mesòtes implies rationally analyzing each circumstance to find the balance point between antagonistic extremes. In this way we can prevent, for example, courage from turning into recklessness, generosity into lavishness, or happiness turning into excessive euphoria.
Obviously, on the way to the mesòtes we will encounter some obstacles. One of them is that extremes are sometimes disguised as virtue and offer the image of a balanced whole. All political ideology, for example, tends to reduce or hide its defects or undesirable drifts, dressing itself in a particularly attractive appearance that hinders rational thought and a moderate attitude.
Clear and seamless prescriptions, both in political and social discourses as well as in psychological ones, encourage extreme positions because they become attractive options to let ourselves go, instead of thinking and deciding our position autonomously.
Currently, for example, the excess of information generates a deafening noise that ends up expelling its analysis. Victims of infoxication, we are bombarded with simplified messages to the extreme, where nuances are lost and unthinking adhesions and extremist and arrogant attitudes are favored that lead us to think that only we are right or possessors of the truth.
Fleeing from extremes will allow us to develop a broader and more objective view of the events. It will allow us to better appreciate the nuances of life. It will help us settle into serenity and, of course, it will make us less manipulable.
To conclude, it is important to bear in mind that moderation is not a static midpoint, since in that case it would become an unattainable dream. As Epicurus said, also “We must be moderate with moderation”.
Heraclitus taught us that everything flows, so the Greek mesòtes is not a precise line from which we should not deviate even a millimeter, but rather a dynamic space in which we move and that can vary depending on the circumstances. It is a space for reflection, which is not always free of tension, but in which we can calmly mature our positions without letting ourselves be carried away by extreme and extremist fashions.
Gargantilla, P. et Al. (2019) ¿Nos sobra hybris y nos falta areté? Med fam Andal; 20(2): 93-94.
Amat, C. (2006) Embriaguez y moderación en el consumo de vino en la Antigüedad. Iberia; 9: 125-142.