Any discussion of Temperance, by me at least, would of course have to include a brief mention of the Temperance Tarot card. While the original Greek virtue was called sophrosyne, our word temperance comes from the Latin verb, “tempare” which means “to mix or combine.”
In the card, the angel stands balanced between land and sea, between the physical world and the flowing unconscious. His right foot (which is traditionally a symbol of our conscious awareness) is dipped into the waters of the subconscious where he is able to quiet and deepen. His left foot (which is the unconscious) stands upon the land, indicating he is also grounded.
The angel pours the magical cups into one another, showing how all the elements of our lives truly flow into one another. The gift of the Temperance card in the Tarot is to be able to balance all aspects of ourselves, finding appropriate combinations, and bringing all sides of oneself into harmony.
In a more modern interpretation, Martin Seligman, Christopher Peterson, and other researchers have recognized the distortions inherent in psychology’s tendency to focus on dysfunction rather than on what makes a healthy and stable personality. So they set out to develop a list of “Character Strengths and Virtues” applicable to the widest possible range of human cultures.
Although few if any virtues are absolutely and universally valued, Seligman and his team found that the ones on their list are all considered important by an overwhelming majority of cultures. Rare communities that do not admire kindness or courage may exist, but they are clearly exceptional.
In addition to the other three cardinal virtues enumerated by the Greeks, these pioneers of the positive psychology movement also include temperance, defining it as a combination of forgiveness and mercy, humility and modesty, prudence and personal self-regulation.
The person who may be seen to possess the virtue of Temperance is consistently balanced, grounded, and measured in word and deed. We live in a world of huge uncertainty and ongoing crisis. Ours is a culture that gives prestige to uncontrolled consumption, greed, extremism, and even violence. It would seem that we are in short supply of women and men that can carry themselves in quiet, calm balance. But they are urgently needed.
Do you know people who you might call temperate? The ones who keep a cool head in a crisis, who enjoy a good time but never go overboard? This is not always the sexiest, most entertaining trait but perhaps temperance as a virtue should be reconsidered.
Every day, we have choices to make, regarding our own relationships to the Virtues. We can either continue to deepen the divisiveness and extremism that will guarantee our ongoing fear, hatred and powerlessness.
Or we can begin to bridge our differences with the practice of temperance, which brings healthfulness, cooperation, and, ultimately will prove to be our path to understanding and peace.