Photo Credit: Dr. H (Creative Commons license)
Most of us have heard of the Seven Deadly Sins. (Pop quiz: see if you can list them!). But the seven virtues? Not so much. I guess a plotline about seven virtues isn’t quite as gripping as the other.
I’ll get to those sins eventually, but today wanted to reflect on an unsung virtue as it relates to money: Temperance.
What place does the word temperance have in our cultural lexicon? Does it have any place at all? And what place does it have in connection to how we handle our money?
I don’t know about you, but it’s not a word I’ve ever used in conversation. It calls to mind bans on alcohol or the name of a Puritans’ daughter (who probably sewed really well).
But I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off – both as a society but more specifically, our bank personal bank accounts! – with reclaiming the word, and more importantly, the notion, in our collective consciousness.
Here’s perhaps a fresh look at the word and what it has to say about our financial life.
Plato looked at it this way: Temperance is used to control the desire to go against one’s free-will. (The Republic 430e) I’m guessing that most readers know, as I have in my bad-old-days, that slightly sick feeling of having over spent despite our better judgment. Not only do we have to deal with the financial consequences, but we also experience a sense of failure at a deeper level.
The Greek/Stoics word for temperance, sophrosyne, includes Soundness of Mind in its meaning. In other words, part of maturing as a human is being not driven (by, say, marketing) but to be guided by our reason in our choices. Many Greeks considered temperance to be integral to wisdom and to a good society.
Likewise, Romans such as Cicero and later Machiavelli understood tempermentia as the antidote to tyranny. A just ruler was a reasonable one, not a capricious one ruled by their mood. Julius Caesar probably practiced temperance; you can bet Nero didn’t.
For both the Greeks and Romans it was not some emasculated character trait to roll our eyes at, but a strength that led to freedom.
The million-dollar question for each of us is: what are the tyrannical forces that exert themselves on our spending? They can be external (society’s expectations, for example) or internal (eg. need to feel good).
And, how can temperance, a higher and stronger force, create freedom for us?