When is enough too much? The virtue of temperance

By Dr Gerard Gaskin, Director of Catholic Education Tasmania

During the 1920s and ’30s, Prohibition laws in the United States banned the production and sale of alcohol. Unfortunately, the laws that had been designed to reduce alcoholism and abuse resulted in rival criminal gangs producing bootleg (illegal) alcohol, and a violent crime wave that swept US cities. Agents from the newly-formed FBI set out to find and destroy bootleg alcohol and the gangs who sold it.

Prohibition had been promoted by religiously -motivated temperance groups all over the USA. Unfortunately, prohibition gave temperance a bad name. To be fair to temperance, it’s more about managing ourselves than about making rules for others to follow.

As parents and educators, we all want our children to be self-regulated, to make wise choices about how much, and how much more of anything, is good for them We can’t always be beside them to manage their emotions, or tell them how they spend their money, or the kind of food they should eat. It’s part of growing up to learn that we can’t have everything we want, and that having everything we want can’t be good for us.

Good parenting does not mean giving our children everything they ask for. My father used to say, you can’t spoil children by giving them what they need; you can only do that by giving them everything they ask for.

Our school-aged children will benefit best from our own personal example of temperance: self-control. If they see us managing our eating, drinking and entertainment, they will receive a living example of temperance. If they see us controlling our urge to gossip or to criticise others, they will learn how to act with charity and kindness. If they see us controlling our anger and our language, they will develop a practical respect for the rights of others. If we provide constant good example as they mature into adults, they will grow in the virtue of temperance, and they will have happier and long-lasting relationships.

The world around us does little to encourage temperance. Popular culture, the media and the world of entertainment tell our children that they have a right to be happy – all the time – to satisfy all our appetites without limit. That is not the road to happiness. Human history shows that a life of self-indulgence always ends in misery. The virtue of temperance promises us a far better future. A life of temperance, of seeking just enough and not too much gives us the desire, the skills and the strength to serve others, before we serve ourselves.

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