The ‘Golden Mean’: A helpful idea from ancient Greece

By Sanda Baucom Hight
Posted 8/23/19

Excitement about the opening of school energizes our community in late August.

News reports about school openings, school supplies drives, clothing sales, publication of bus schedules, student …

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The ‘Golden Mean’: A helpful idea from ancient Greece

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Excitement about the opening of school energizes our community in late August.

News reports about school openings, school supplies drives, clothing sales, publication of bus schedules, student schedules releases, sprucing up schools to get ready for students and other examples of school preparation make for a bustling time.

Along with all the preparatory activity, an idea gleaned from Ancient Greece just might be helpful to students and their families as they move forward with learning, social development and athletic and other extracurricular activity,

That’s right: an idea that can help students and families with their lives.

The idea is the “Golden Mean,” associated with the Greek ideas of moderation, balance and harmony in the lives of human beings.

One source offers this definition: “The ‘Golden Mean’ is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other deficiency.” Others speak of the “Middle Way.”

Carved on the Temple of Delphi in Greece is “Nothing in Excess.” The ancient culture loved this idea. The Greeks wanted this concept to be remembered for centuries to come.

So how does this old idea apply to young people in the 21st century?

The answer can be as simple or as complicated as a person chooses to make it. There is a way to balance academics, social life, athletic involvement, work, rest and recreation, volunteer work, spiritual development and family time if a person chooses to do so. Being mindful about balance and harmony is crucial.

The Ancient Greeks would warn us that too much time spent on athletics might squeeze out family time; too much time spent on academics might erode social development; too much screen time might damage academic growth; too much time at work might damage all other aspects of a young person’s life. The list can go on.

A student’s high school years are among the most formative, memorable and joyous times of a person’s life, but without harmony, balance and moderation, those years might be among the most stressful and anxious times.

When the Ancient Greeks discussed beauty and moderation — and they did talk at length about ideas such as these — they talked about the “Golden Mean.” How can adults help students incorporate this helpful idea into their lives?

They can be bold and just tell students what is meant by the “Golden Mean.” In high school math, students learn about finding mean, median and mode, so they already have some concept of the idea. They might be exposed to Greek ideas in world history or world literature. Engage in conversations and find out what they already know. Parents can do this, and they might learn a thing or two from their children in the process.

Advise students about the positive aspects of moderation, balance and harmony as they juggle academics, athletics, family life and all other activities in their lives. Be specific if you think young people are letting aspects of their lives get out of balance.

Sometimes students surprise us and achieve a balance in spite of difficult circumstances.

Is it not amazing that ideas from ancient cultures can make our modern lives better?

Let us be like the Greeks and really think about ways we can make our own lives and the lives of our children better.

It is no accident that the Greeks called their mean “golden.”

Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life. Email her at srbhight8@gmail.com.