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On Harmony and Virtue: Wise Men’s Sayings About Balance

by admin on October 5, 2011

Prophets and wise people throughout the centuries have touted the idea of balance—balance in relation with happiness, with beauty, and with reason. The word harmony comes from the Greek word armonia whose root is areti, meaning virtue. The two words don’t look the same at first sight, but the origin (aro) is contained in the word armonia, suggesting that through virtue, balance will be achieved.

“Virtue is when you avoid exaggerations.”
— Socrates (Greek philosopher 470-399 B.C.)

“Miden agan.” (Exaggerate nothing)
— The oracle of Delphi

“Pan metrion ariston.” (All in good measure)
— Cleovoulos of Rhodes, one of the seven sages of Greece.

Of course, sayings regarding balance are not common only to Greek philosophy.

‘The Middle Way’

Once upon a time in India, Buddha Shakyamuni was sitting in meditation in front of a river. Music flowed from a small boat passing by. A musician on board was instructing his students: “If you distend the chord too much, the chord will break and you cannot play music,” the music teacher said. “But if you unbend the chord too much you cannot produce any sound.” Shakyamuni overheard these words and enlightened to the principle of balance. And that’s why in his teachings, he taught the middle way.

Taking the middle way means not going to extremes, but applying moderation to everything we do.

“The virtue embodied in the doctrine of the Mean is of the highest order. But it has long been, rare among people.”
— Confucius on the golden mean, or “zhong yong” which loosely translates to the “balancing point.”

Since balance and virtue go hand in hand, it seems that virtue is the vehicle for one to achieve balance.

Aristotle said, “Happiness, whether consisting in pleasure or virtue, or both, is more often found with those who are highly cultivated in their minds and in their character, and have only a moderate share of external goods, than among those who possess external goods to a useless extent but are deficient in higher qualities.” According to Aristotle, the way to achieve virtue is by not giving importance to material things, and to instead cultivate oneself, mind, and character.

Anaxagoras, a famous Greek doctor living in the 5th century, offers us a way to understand balance by giving an example of a familiar aspect of our lives: music.From extreme opposite sounds, Anaxagoras explains, high and low notes relax and balance each other’s power to become harmonious, and this harmony is the art of music—harmony is consonant, and consonance is symphony.

As Anaxagoras was a chiefly a doctor when he wasn’t delving into mathematics, physics, and astronomy, he also mentioned food as an arena where balance is crucial:

“If there isn’t harmony in the way people enjoy food, then it would be a poison instead of medicine or even a pleasure,” he said.

Anaxagoras’ words on balance predated Socrates’ ideas on the same subject, and have been picked up by Aristotle much later.

“The word harmony can be found everywhere, can be mentioned by anyone and can be praised by anyone. It can also mean anything and be anywhere and everywhere. No matter what…No matter where, if someone finds the balance in his life in whatever he does in whatever he sees and whatever he hears, it’s surely that he is a virtuous man that found the way to see that things need a balance.”

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