Dec 4, 2012

Moderation, Truth and the Middle

What are the wisest and most useful words in the history of human thought?

"Moderation in all things"
- Terence, 2nd century BC 

Not only is this known by everyone to be absolutely true, many other philosophies and much of what we believe can also be summed up by this one.

It not only applies to the best way to live a life (not too much of anything, nor too little), but it can be applied to ways of thinking, and what to believe.

My own philosophy is:  

The truth is (almost) never at the extremes.

See? "almost never", not "never". Because never is an extreme. And sometimes, occasionally, an extreme position is the truth. But... not often.

Most people mistrust extremism of any kind - and rightly too.  Most of us tread a middle path, taking what we need or what seems true and uncomfortable with the bits on the edges.

It helps with critical thinking. When you read the latest statistics or PR from a lobby group in the news, or hear about some "new" theory from an "alternative" source, consider: how extreme is the position? Because those extreme positions are unlikely to be the truth.

Image by Kittisak via

As boring as it may sound, the truth, and the best way of being, is usually somewhere in the middle of things.

Some everyday, modern day examples, from parenting:

  • We all know we're spending too much time on the internet. We worry about our kids having too much "screen time", so why shouldn't we worry about ourselves? Those studies and books showing that Google has taught us new skills and Twitter means we're smarter are comforting and interesting, but our instincts that we should spend less time on social media and more time outside are completely correct
  • I think most of us reject the currently oft-repeated advice "you can't give children/people too much praise". Of course you can. Overdo it and it's meaningless, we all know that.
  • Similarly, "you can't over-feed a baby/toddler, they self-regulate." Most do, some don't.
  • I find the advice commonly heard now that you must read to babies and tiny children every day ridiculous. ("must", "every day" and "from day one" being the extremisms here)
  • I have no doubt that breast milk is the best way to feed a baby - all other things being equal. But in the real world all other things are not equal. I find the idea that every single woman's body will always produce perfect breast milk ridiculous. I find the idea that breast milk prevents obesity or raises IQ levels ridiculous. (Nature is not in the business of creating perfectly functioning individual creatures; in nature a species or system perpetuates - there is no guarantee that every individual baby will prosper under "natural" conditions. If there was why don't all animals survive?). 
  • Natural childbirth is an admirable thing to want, but no one should feel bad about going the other way. Modern obstetrics are the reason why childbirth is no longer considered dangerous - as it was, throughout all of human history. 
  • I like the philosophies behind attachment parenting, co-sleeping and "following your baby", and  I parented my babies this way to a degree. But I find the proponents of these ideas too extreme. I find their objections to controlled crying (as if leaving a baby to cry for 5 minutes is abandoning the child in a Romanian orphanage) ridiculous
  • We don't believe in "hiding vegetables" - but sometimes we do. You know, kids need their veggies, and mostly they are not too keen on eating them. Some kids love some vegetables, some kids like them sometimes. If I think they haven't had their quota in a week, I have no problem hiding spinach in spaghetti sauce or zucchini in a cake.
  • "Never ever lie to your children." Sure - as a guiding philosophy, that is right. It's what we aim for. But occasionally, you have to lie - or at least, tell a "white lie"
  • I totally reject the idea that there is a Mummy War pitting "stay-at-home" mothers against "working" mothers. Most mummies these days do a bit of both, or one followed by the other. And "working" or "having a career" doesn't mean you are holding conference calls from the labour ward or having your children raised solely by nannies.  (At least I think it doesn't. My career has not been wildly successful so I cannot personally vouch). 

So that's my life (and maybe yours too?) in the middle.

Oh, and for those who believe in these things*, I'm a Libran

* I don't, but I'm a typical Libran anyway.

What about you - are you a "middle path" person? 
Or do you prefer life on the fringes? 


  1. Agree one hundred percent. And I'm a Scorpio!

    1. Thanks Kath. I know nothing about Scorpios but clearly you are fine, intelligent people!



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