08 May 2009

Balance

Yesterday at graduation, Chancellor Zeppos spoke of balance. His speech to the graduates was basically a tribute to the golden mean. It was a pleasingly and surprisingly Aristotelian theme. (I guess the chancellor takes just pride in his Greek cultural heritage!) Aristotle is the best philosophical starting point for a life of virtue. I would like to propose a Christian refinement.

The trick to the golden mean is having some basis for locating it. Not to fault the chancellor -- how precise can you get in a speech given in a sticky gym? -- but in his speech yesterday the golden mean seemed to be found by taking a little of this and not too much of that -- a "meal plan" approach to morality. Of course, he said, it is alright to have a "passion" for something, too. Just don't get carried away. This is all pretty good advice (except for the choice of the word "passion") but it doesn't really get down to the details. As my readers know, "love is in the details!"

I would propose that the method of finding the appropriate mean is not in some system like the food pyramid but rather is in loving according to right reason. How do I know how I should spend my time? Well, how am I called on to love at this point in my life? If I am a student, that means a priority for study. Since I am a child, I have duties to my parents. If I am married, my spouse comes first and then my children. As a child of God, I pray. If I am a military officer, responsibility for my comrades and country makes me courageous. Sometimes one of these loves is so pressing that the mean resembles an extreme, but it is actually still the mean for me at that time.

Love is a sliding scale not a system. To go far in love is not a violation of the golden mean as is giving way to passion. So I would propose not "passion" but love as the standard. Passion is about the self being carried away. Love is about giving the self away. And that is the meaning of life! The cross is the perfect balance!

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