Temperance (part 1)

Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.
-Elbert Hubbard

Most of the thinkers in the Men’s Movement recognize the importance of Integrity in some form or another. Basic honesty, trustworthiness, willingness to trust, and understanding that you can’t take care of and love someone else if you don’t take care of and love yourself first are all very basic to being a good and healthy man. One thing I believe that the current dialogue misses is that Integrity only survives so long as it has other supporting values along with it.

Integrity on its own can solve a lot of moral conundrums. It can build a reputation for being fair and honest, and help you build greater social skills. Integrity pushes you to use your head first and your heart second. It demands you get into the habit of making choices and following them through. But on its own the pursuit of integrity invites some extreme behaviour:

Sometimes, suspending judgement leads us to be easily fooled. The pursuit of self-care can sap the fun out of life. Self-sacrifice comes very easily to a person with high Integrity: so easily they can make themselves doormats. A man with Integrity may be very socially appealing, but in a monogamous sexual relationship he loses sex appeal quickly. When it comes to making another person feel loved, sometimes total honesty is not the best policy. Some people protect their Integrity by never exposing themselves to temptation, and live less joyous and worthwhile lives for it.

In order for Integrity to be a healthy pursuit it must be balanced out with another important virtue: Temperance.

Temperance is the power of knowing when things are going too far and being able to do something about it. The word comes from metal-smithing: when you hold many metals in heat it helps work out flaws and impurities, making the metal stronger. If the metal is held in the fire too long, it melts and becomes weaker: the smith has to know exactly how much the metal can take through experience.

This is used as a powerful metaphor throughout the English language. In the control of anger in particular we talk about our “temper”. A Man who has an even temper can face rudeness, bad behaviour, frustrating attitudes, and stressful situations and still stay strong. We even call exposing ourselves to stressful situations “testing our mettle” (the strength of the metal we are made of). He acts with reason and patience. If he is pushed too far he loses his temper, and like poorly-smithed steel he “snaps” – he loses his composure and does something regrettable.

As a man of Temperence, you have to acknowledge that you are responsible for your outward behaviour, your mental environment, and your personal growth all at once. That means constantly using both your head and your heart together to pick the action that gets the sanest, wisest, most desirable outcomes you can create, for both yourself and others.

Temperence manifests itself in a lot of different ways:

Because you need to understand your limits and your emotional and moral flashpoints, you have to be willing to hold yourself in the “fire.” You cannot afford to hide from things that might upset or offend you. It might be easier to maintain your Integrity in the short run by closing yourself off, but that will leave your Integrity fragile.

Even though you cannot afford to hide away from the unpleasantness of life, Temperance doesn’t mean chasing after them either. Being open to new experiences, even upsetting ones is very different from actively seeking to be offended or infuriated. That sort of self-punishment is simply asking for failure.

Being open and willing to have your mettle tested also does not mean you have to sit idly by while you are being abused. As you learn your emotional limits, you should watch for them, and speak out when you are being pushed too far. Being strong in the face of pressure is what Temperance is about.

When faced with something morally offensive, Integrity demands that you speak out – Temperance demands that, unless someone is in immediate danger – you try to understand both why the offensive actions are happening, and why you are offended so you can make a rational judgement, rather than a knee-jerk moral reaction. That way, not only do you understand the whys of your moral limits, but also the best way to prevent the offensive event in the future.

When you are in a state of intense emotion, especially anger, Temperance becomes the ability to use the Masculine power of swallowing your emotions for a moment, and backing away to process and vent. The key to tempering metal is to pull it out of the fire and let it cool down when it is getting too hot, then putting it back in the fire when it can take more. The same is true of anger and frustration: letting your emotions get the better of you, and acting in the heat of the moment is likely to damage your integrity, your relationships, or your legal freedoms.

Oscar Wilde once said “All things are best in moderation, especially moderation.” This is also an important part of Temperance: when you are chasing Integrity, trying to be the best person you can be, and the healthiest, you have to make sure you aren’t sacrificing your own happiness. It is easy for a Man who is trying his best to take care of others to turn himself into a doormat. While this seems to be keeping Integrity at first, it ultimate destroys your integrity from the inside by making you stressed, bitter and unhappy. Tempering your virtue with a little time off to slack off, enjoy life, and putting yourself first once in awhile makes being in Integrity on a whole much easier.

By its nature Temperance demands that we learn to see things not in black and white, but in shades of grey. Sometimes too much virtue turns into self-destruction. Sometimes a little vice lets a person decompress so they can be more virtuous in the future.

Temperance is a long game: when it comes to your own behaviour, you can often stay Tempered by asking yourself these questions when a difficult decision arises:

 

  • “Does this make me happy? Does it get me toward my goals?”
  • “If I keep this up will I be able to stay in Integrity?”
  • “Am I doing this with a clear head? Do I have enough information?”
  • “What long-term impact will doing this have?”
  • “Is this what I would normally do?”
  • “Does this action reflect the ideals and morals I personally hold dear?”
  • “Am I being honest about the reasons I am making this choice?”
  • “Am I choosing to move forward with life, or am I avoiding something?”
  • “Am I showing respect for myself and the people around me? Am I treating everyone like thinking, reasoning, moral adults?”
  • “How am I feeling right now?”

 

In the end, Temperance is about knowing when things have gone too far: knowing when you are too angry, knowing when you are working too hard, knowing when you have heard enough, and knowing when you don’t understand things fully. A person with both Temperance and Integrity can be trusted to know where to draw the line in almost any situation, and keep situations from crossing that line in a firm, assertive manner.

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