Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Balance and Moderation

I am hoping for balance and moderation (as the title to this post suggests). Achieving this goal is likely impossible, as the the lines (of what? of everything) are constantly shifting, making the enterprise challengingly unpredictable. Nevertheless, I have come upon a few ideas lately (in print in various publications) that struck me as offering some guidance in this respect. First, from the New York Times.

David Brooks: I guess I should try to explain what I think moderation means. . . .  I guess it means restraining your impulses and trying to gather evidence about the crime before rendering a judgment about what it all means. Moderation means understanding that we all have a tendency to exploit events in order to ride our own hobbyhorses, so it’s usually best to try to pause and put aside one’s prejudices and try to look at each event in as neutral a way as a possible.
Moderation is a disposition rather than an agenda. It means calibrating your opinions to the strength of the evidence. It means pausing to look at any event from alternate perspectives.
 Second, from Moment magazine, from the editor, Nadine Epstein. Some of you know that several years ago, I won the fiction competition sponsored by this magazine. Ever since then, I have been a subscriber, in part because I appreciated their award and in part because I appreciate what they do as a magazine. Here's part of what Nadine had to say in the latest issue.

For several years now I have observed what I call the "Not in Mixed Company" syndrome, that pesky inability to talk about Israel in mixed company. By mixed company I don't mean Arabs and Jews or Jews and Christians, but Jews and Jews. Beyond the comfortable confines of a few select venues where it is understood that everyone agrees with one another, talking about Israel in organizational, public, or even private settings has become fraught with acknowledged and unacknowledged complexities. Jew-to-Jew, Israel is a deeply polarizing subject.
I'm with her, which I'm sure you realized, or I wouldn't have quoted her. A year or so ago, I got into an argument with a cousin of mine because he used the word savages to refer to . . . well, to be honest, I'm not sure what he was using that word to refer to. Arabs? Palestinians? those who are anti-Israeli or have negative feelings toward Israel or toward Israelis or at least toward some Israelis or toward some of the things that they have done? The reason I don't know is that I got too upset too quickly rather than finding out what he meant and telling him why I objected to that word. I thought I was reacting against him because of his extreme position, but now I see that I too was taking an extreme position because I didn't take the time to find out what he meant.
This cousin sends out multiple emails (sometimes several a week) on the subject of Israel (letters to the editor; articles he picks up from elsewhere; news about Israeli achievements in science and technology), and by some quirk of technology, I always get TWO copies of each. At first, I just deleted them without reading them, telling myself that I didn't like them because they represented an extreme position. I don't claim to be as well-informed about Israel as he is (in fact I don't claim to be well informed at all), but I told myself that I didn't like the strident tone. After a while, though, I guess he wore me down, and I took a peek. What I discovered is that they were well written and represented a passion and high level of fear and concern rather than anything really "bad."
     Passion is good, but moderation is also good. In the novel I am working on, I have character who is learning to play the violin (and also learning to be a person), and her teacher points out to her that one of the great difficulties is doing the hard work of drilling and discipline but still being able to let go and soar. And by the way, I am currently reading David Grossman's novel To the End of the Land, and finding that for someone like me, literature is the best way to enter a difficult topic--in this case, Israel.
     One more quote, from last week's Newsweek and an article by Stephen L. Carter called "Man of War," about Obama as commander in chief of two wars.
The need to pick from among several unappealing ways to defend the nation is what separates presidents from pundits. I believe that much of the virulent hatred directed at President Obama's predecessor, and at Obama himself, arises from a rejection of this proposition. To the hater, the world is simple, not complex. The answers are obvious. "If the president were only as clear-eyed and wise as I am," the protester thinks, "he would see the world as it truly is, and make better decisions." It turns out, however, that in time of war, very different presidents may see the world in roughly the same way.
Oh, that it were all simpler and the answers more certain. Oh, that we could find the balance between passion and reason, the balance between discipline and soaring.

Oh for a modicum of serenity.


Jim Poznak said...

Your awareness and yearning for balance and serenity is as important as actually achieving these states, because your awareness and yearning enable you to correct yourself and gently cajole others. said...

As we become more complicated beings because of the impact of the information age that is changing the way we are as people, communities and communities of world, we are less comfortable with our physical and mental surroundings. These feelings probably change our definition of balance and moderation, your two appropriate words to consider to help cope and function in a society that becomes more like a Stephen King novel every day.

As we feel more friendly with this new and frightening society offering information a click away we must cope with another issue Americans are passionate about: Privacy. Loss of privacy is a serious consideration to pay for access to information. How many times must you reveal your yearly income to a stranger? Fortunately sensible people will remain unnoticed. Sensible people do not walk on a dark street alone.They know there is unity in numbers. but these feelings are negative to the struggle to cope with diversity. .

Sensible people adjust balance and moderation to accommodate reality. Sensible people have always been, well, sensible. People really haven't changed that much.Sensible people realize the difference between what is and is not balance and moderation. A diversity of its own..

Extending balance and moderation to diversity further encourages serious thinking about this issue if we can separate it from the rest of the madness. Thank you.

Patry Francis said...

So wise, Susan.

There was a wonderful piece about David Grossman in the New Yorker not long ago. Did you see it?

Susan Messer said...


thanks so much for stopping by. Didn't see the Grossman article, will try to find it. I have finished reading his novel since I wrote this post and have many, many thoughts and feelings about it and about how one is supposed to live in the midst of an impossible situation.