Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Happy Medium

For some reason, every time I think the words 'happy medium', I picture a spiritualist sitting in front of a crystal ball and chortling to herself. But yeah, that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about one of my pet peeves: the opposite of a happy medium, viz. the tendency to go to one extreme or other, (often of a good thing), and thus totally losing the point, or your audience. Or the tendency to be so fond of one viewpoint that you cannot even see the flaws in it, and anyone who does not espouse it is The Enemy. Or being so invested in an viewpoint that you CANNOT see any good reasons why anyone would believe anything else.* Like it is impossible to say, "I see your point, although I don't fully agree with it."

At this point you're wondering "What the heck is she talking about?"

My answer is 'EVERYTHING!'. Well, everything you can have an opinion about.

Like, drunkenness vs being a teetotaller. Or Novus Ordo vs the Latin Rite. Or doing social work vs being an evangelist. Or being a health freak vs being a glutton. Or being judgmental vs. being a moral coward. Or being critical vs. being gullible. Or being organized vs. being spontaneous. Or Mary vs. Martha. Or spontaneous prayer vs. formulaic prayer. Or charismatic vocal prayer meetings vs contemplative Adoration in a chapel. Or the Bible vs the Rosary. Or Pope Benedict fans vs Pope Francis fans. Or parents who spank their kids vs. parents who don't believe in ever saying 'No'. Or staying in and being a moody introvert vs. going out and being a social butterfly. Or looking for a fight vs. refusing to defend the weak. Or being a self-centred jerk vs. being a people-pleaser. Or radical feminism vs. chauvinism. Or having serious conversations about Real Things vs having ridiculous giggly conversations about irrelevant flights of fancy.

Now that I write my list, I realize that they do not all fit into the same category. There are some which seem like they are opposing each other, but both of which you can actually accept and embrace (charismatic and contemplative prayer). And there are some which are both wrong in the extreme, and for which only the happy medium can be right (judgmental vs. moral coward). And there are some which are just preferences or personality types (organized vs. spontaneous)- you don't have to embrace the other extreme, but can appreciate the good in it.

Here's an example:

A few weeks ago, my parish celebrated it's first Latin Mass, probably in decades. I was horribly disappointed to miss it because I was out of town. When I got back, an older Catholic gentleman mentioned it to me. "They had the Mass in Latin! I told the Bishop 'You'll empty the churches if you have Latin Masses!'" When I tried to explain why people like the Latin Mass, he told me "No no, maybe some old people. But the young people will not like it!"

He just couldn't wrap his mind around the possibility that they may be some value in the Latin Mass. I've met other people with set in stone opinions about various issues. Heck, I used to be one of them. Not the issues that the Church has definitely guided us on, just the in between ones. Harry Potter, for example. Or Santa Claus.

Okay, enough rambling for today. Go forth and find a happy medium.

Here's a good article which is kinda related:

When Catholics Play Tug-of-War, the Church Loses

*Of course you're thinking- you're a Catholic. You're a fine one to talk about being extreme. The distinction I make here is being extreme about issues that are not absolute moral truths. They're not so much about right or wrong, but about preferences or opinions... that we redefine as right or wrong.


  1. This is a good reminder for me, because my personality makes me tend to extremes in viewpoint. I have to consciously remind myself that, in cases of mere preference of one good or another, different opinions from mine are okay to have.

    The thing is, I am a huge believer of absolute Truth, and I reject relativism completely. It's just that, sometimes my rejection of relativism leaks out of the moral truth realm and into other realms where it's ok to have variety.

    1. Yes, I guess the trick is differentiating between the two. I read this St. Augustine quote "In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity.' I love that!