BARRETT: The art of moderation



Tom Barrett

When I studied in Freiburg, Germany last semester, there were a few things I expected to be amazed by – the old-fashioned cobblestone roads throughout the city center, the gigantic Münster cathedral towering over the entire city, the beautiful hills of the Black Forest encircling the town. But one place that I didn’t expect to be so taken aback by was the Rewe, the local grocery store behind my apartment.

On my first day in my new apartment, a few other Americans and I went to find some food. Browsing through the aisles felt as foreign as anything else we had experienced as we desperately tried to find anything that looked remotely familiar. And then, we saw it: an entire aisle stretching half the length of the store holding enormous bottles of legendary German beer.

We walked in quiet awe, admiring what seemed like a goldmine. Then, we saw an aisle of nothing but champagne and wine and behind that another one stocked with all the hard alcohol you could imagine – vodka, rum, whiskey and so on. We were shocked.

We grabbed a few items, and as we were heading out, we noticed the magazine shelf – half-naked women and their bare breasts stared at us from the covers of at least half a dozen magazines for all the world to see. We Americans couldn’t help but giggle, but no one else in the store even thought to look twice. For us Americans, such easy access to alcohol and such open displays of sexuality seemed almost criminal, but to the Germans, these products fit in as naturally as bananas or cereal.

In this country, if someone shows an open appreciation for alcohol, it makes them seem like a borderline alcoholic. Open displays of sexuality are often considered vulgar and tasteless. Yet, why are the Germans so OK with beer and dirty magazines being in plain view of toddlers while many people in our country would consider this grossly irresponsible?

As human beings, we are unique creatures. We seem to have two sides. On the one hand, we have natural, almost animalistic urges. We like doing things that make us feel good. Eating, sleeping, drinking, having sex – all of these things satisfy us in a physical way that tends to be enjoyable.

On the other hand, there is a side of us that knows better than to be driven by these physical desires. This side recognizes the fact that while eating and sleeping both feel good and are good for us, doing them in excess will lead us to become lazy and out of shape. All of these things, however, are natural parts of human life. In and of themselves, these things are not good or bad. Rather, it is how we decide to incorporate these things into our lives that determines whether they add to our lives or bring us down.

For instance, when my German roommates drank, they would have a few beers, and they would be a very merry crowd. They never, however, drank to the point of vomiting all over the sidewalk, and they tended to remember most events throughout the night. I cannot say the same thing for many of the Americans in my program.

As with many things in life, there is a right way and a wrong way to handle our physical desires, but this does not mean that there is some rigid code of conduct for us to follow. Rather, to live well, we must practice moderation, but what this moderation looks like will be different for each of us.

If we choose to live for nothing more than indulging in pleasure, we will essentially reduce the scope of our lives to that of a house pet, but to deny ourselves the enjoyment these things completely will cut us off from a fundamental part of being human. The answer lies somewhere between these extremes, but it is up to us to discover where that mean exists.

This process of personal discovery requires both experience and reflection. While we will never find an absolute perfect balance, getting closer and closer to this point will lead us to living lives that are more fully human.


Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].