Mar 28, 2017 filed under Temperance.

sword of temperance

Virtues are good habits of character. No one’s come up with a better way to be happy than to discover how to practice Justice, Courage, Self-Control, Prudence, Faith, Hope, and Love. They are the seven main virtues. They give us more peace inside and out.

In this seven-week series, we dig into a different virtue every week. Welcome to Week Three: Self-control.

Temperance, also called Self-control, is the virtue that helps us pass up something pleasurable in order to attain a higher goal. Well-tempered metal, like a Samurai sword, springs back to its original shape when bent, and that’s the resilience that temperance gives us, too. …But hold back on something I want? Right now? Can’t we just remove this virtue from the list?

Hold on – you do it all the time without even realizing it. Let’s say you have $50 in your wallet and have promised $20 to a friend for gas money to get to job interviews. On the way to give your friend the money, you decide not to buy the $50 pair of cool sunglasses you see in the store window. Instead, you choose to hold back on the sunglasses for a higher purpose: helping your friend get a job.

Because temperance is primarily about bodily pleasure, here’s another example. Let’s say the same friend is allergic to strawberries. You probably wouldn’t make strawberry shortcake for his new-job-celebration dinner, even though strawberries are gorgeous and in season. You’d make peach cobbler, his favorite dessert, instead, even if you’re not a huge peach fan.

We all have an inner 3-year-old who wants more ice cream (or anything pleasurable) than he’s getting. Luckily, we have an even deeper part of us – the part that’s like God — that will hold back on a second serving if someone else would go without. That part – the generous part – is what gets stronger as we grow in virtue. When temperance gets stronger, all the other virtues get stronger, too. We’re angry less often and more engaged with the people around us.

In the book Willpower, authors Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney point to studies that show how “decision fatigue” lessens our ability to control ourselves and made good decisions. Actually, it’s the lack of glucose in our brain that depletes it. They say that making decisions uses up glucose in the brain at a rapid rate and if the glucose is not replaced by eating something, our ability to make hard choices may suffer.

For example, a prisoner is more likely to be approved for parole after the judge has had her mid-morning snack than if he appears before a judge who hasn’t eaten in a few hours. The researchers surmised it’s because a depleted brain simply makes the easiest choice. Like when you come home from a stressful day at work and snap at your spouse. The will is “bent” by the temptation to go the easy route, and low glucose lessens the power (temperance) to “spring back” to override it and make the more generous choice.

One of the researchers quoted in Willpower experienced this herself when planning her wedding. At the gift registry, she and her fiancé were asked how ornate they wanted their china to be, which brand of knives they preferred, what kind of towels and which color, and precisely how many threads per square inch of their sheets. “By the end,” she told her colleagues in the lab, “you could have talked me into anything.”

Although prayer and practice will always be the best spiritual strengtheners, knowing the physical aspect of growing in virtue can help a lot, too. Pass the apples!

Love always,

4 Responses to “The Samurai Sword of Temperance”

  1. Tom roberts

    The principle of delayed gratification is encapsulated in the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment. Children were presented with a marshmallow and told they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow if they delayed eating the marshmallow in front of them for fifteen minutes. Follow-up studies showed that those who succeeded in saving their marshmallow tended to have better life outcomes like higher SAT scores, greater educational,achievement and even avoiding obesity. It wasn’t just about marshmallows, it was about a way of thinking.

    Temperance was at the root of our developing civilization. Instead of hunting the best wild animals and harvesting the best wild grain and moving on when there was nothing left, we began growing them. But here was the transformation. We began to offer the best instead of eating the best. I like to think we saw the best wheat as God’s blessing on life, so we offered him a portion of the best and put the other portion back into the earth for the future. We offered God a portion of our best livestock and let the remainder breed future generations. Unlike toughing out the wait for another marshmallow. If you want a short lesson, look at the transformation of the down at the heels complaining Israelites when God asked them to build him a home in the desert. Slaves became carpenters, weavers, metal workers; a celebration of talents and skills that were within them, but lost. Supplies scattered here and there among them came together to make a treasure. Look at Matthew 6:25-34: Dependence on God. He proves that the journey can be more rewarding than the marshmallows if you take the time to try it.

    • Rose Folsom

      After reading your comment, I notice that “temperance” has the word “time” in it. Controlling ourselves to work toward the best outcome is about time and, as you say, about a way of thinking — an ability to picture what the long-term (or eternal) outcome of an action could be. Thanks for your insight.