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The Benefits of Being Balanced

February 4, 2011

Here I am, writing this blog post with a mug of tea, just like a good blogger. Do I get points for that?

Knowing the intended readership of this blog, probably not. More like “Stop commenting on your choice among drinks and get to writing, ya lazy lout.”

Can do.

There is a lot of extremism in this world, and especially in this country.

“What?!” I can hear the outraged exclamation from a portion of the readership. “We don’t have a lot of extremism! We live in America, the extremism comes from…*insert target country*.”

But I assure you, we have plenty of our own extremism to deal with in America, though it very cleverly does not get called “extremism”. No, what we have is a “bi-polar political climate”, meaning there are two dominant political parties, and you are either in one party or the other. Well duh. Anyone with half a brain can see that while the other parties can do great work to accomplish their goals, they don’t get enough votes to be considered major players in the political game.

The closest I believe we’ve gotten to acknowledging this climate of extremism has been in the phrase “extreme polarization” of the nation. The idea that not only do we have a greatly polarized political system, but the parties we have are being forced to adopt more and more extreme ideas to appeal to their core supporters. Even more, the ideology of each party drives the other party to adopt an even more extreme stance than they would otherwise have advocated.

Even outside of politics, there is plenty of extremism. In religion, there is never a particular shortage of fervor and zealotry. In athletics, young (and not-so-young) men and women push their bodies to exceed the outer limits of the past. In higher education, there is no longer a drive to produce individuals who have mastery of a variety of subjects, but individuals who take on one subject in an endless series of specializations. Even beyond normal athletics, there is an entire category of “eXtreme”(spell check really hates me for typing that one) sports, the province of which is an escalation of ever-more improbable stunts that beg for a fragile human body to slip one degree too far.

Even in terms of opinions, stances, viewpoints, perspectives, moderation and balance are seen as “wishy-washy”, “indecisive”, and “non-committal”. It’s childish not to decide one way or another, and a real man/woman has a clear-cut, uncompromising, decisive view.

Or not.

Or, as Socrates advocates in Plato’s Republic (man, that guy really did know what he was talking about. Damn good thing I’m taking Philosophy classes), we should strive for moderation in all things. Excesses of the flesh, excesses of the state, excesses even of heroes and gods are to be avoided. He was so adamant on this topic that it makes up the bulk of books 2-10 in Republic, which constitutes a good 230 pages arguing for moderation. Socrates, you know. The greatest philosopher to ever walk among men.

And I completely agree with Socrates. Moderation, balance, they’re two words for the same thing, and that is how I attempt to walk the path of my life. A balance between starvation and gluttony, a balance between humble servitude and arrogant pride (still working on that one), a balance between intellectual and physical pursuits, a balance even within intellectual pursuits.

Education, beginning in high school and beyond, becomes increasingly more and more specialized as time goes on– one picks a major, and continues to pursue that subject throughout (theoretically) the entirety of one’s life. The greatest example of this is earning one’s PhD. One contributes something to that field, pushes the extent of human knowledge out a little further than it previously was, and becomes an expert in that field.

In the past, this was not the case. Think of the men for whom the term “Renaissance Man” was coined: Da Vinci is the greatest example of this. He embodied the idea of a Renaissance Man, a polymath; he was one man who developed skills in the arts, in science, in social areas, and even in physical training. This concept comes from the idea that human beings are empowered, and therefore unlimited in their ability to acquire skills. A man in the Renaissance Age would devote his time not exclusively to one subject, but rather develop a broad base of many skills and become knowledgeable in many areas.

Perhaps I’m advocating beyond the scope of a post on Balance, but moderation and the practices of the polymath go hand in hand, at least as I see them. Rather than devoting an extreme, singularly focused, amount of time to one particular area of life, I choose to devote the bulk of my time to developing many different areas. Not only can I become a specialist in one field, I can similarly balance my life by devoting significant expenditures of time and effort to other skills and categories of knowledge.

Not only is it possible, I would deem it desirable. How many times has anyone wished they had a particular skill, or knew more about a particular subject? It’s an event that occurs a countless number of times for anybody, regardless of how skilled or knowledgeable they are. It makes sense then, not only practically (to be self-sufficient in a multitude of ways), but merely in terms of human desires to be balanced and moderate in pursuing goals.

I won’t be an ignorant dullard or an informed hypocrite here. There are obviously uses for extremity, and especially extreme forms of commitment. However, they are the exception to the desired state of things, rather than the rule.

As usual, I would love to get plenty of comments, thoughts, and questions to start a great discussion here. Let me know what you think about this post! Am I off my rocker? Do I strike you as an idiot? Or perhaps you strive for balance too. Use that comment box down south of this post, that’s what it’s there for. Have a great day!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Alex Moreno permalink
    February 4, 2011 11:50 pm

    You are not off your rocker sir, it’s my political policy, my religious policy (I believe in God as a semi- Christian? Ask me about it if your curious how moderation and balance fits in with my religious perspective because I’d be glad to share) and my overall desired way of life. I still have “slip-ups” regarding some extremism in my attitude and personality, some due to the human condition, and some due to ignorance entirely. (Hey, nobody is perfect and I’ll absolutely be #1 to admit it!)

    Great post Miles.

  2. Stephanie Degenhardt permalink
    February 5, 2011 7:36 am

    I agree, Miles, extrimists do exist in this country. Look at the so-called Christians who protested at Elizabeth Edward’s funeral. Although, I’m not sure I would call that extremism or just plain idiocy.

    Political and religious extrimists, especially, scare me. They tend to be close-minded individuals, and when they group together, can be downright dangerous.

  3. Adam Brown permalink
    February 7, 2011 1:23 pm

    Would I qualify as an extremist in this case, considering my political ideology? Or is there something to be said for reasonableness? Provided intellectually rigorous and balanced dialogue, I doubt you would come across many radicals. The lack of reason seems to create such vacuous extremism, not the ideas themselves.

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