Time for Temperance… or prize turnips

I’m finally getting around to writing about the fourth cardinal virtue – temperance.  It sits alongside prudence, justice and fortitude and is a noun with two meanings:

 1. Moderation and self-restraint in behaviour or expression

2. Abstinence from alcoholic drink

I used to enjoy a glass of wine or two but haven’t indulged for many months now.  I enjoyed the taste more than the effects of alcohol but these days it doesn’t even taste as good so has been cast aside in favour of fruit juices.

From time to time in our history alcohol has been viewed as something quite sinister, a route to wickedness and sloth. In the 1700’s drunkenness was seen as an illness of the will. Upper class drunks were said to have contracted this illness through contagion while lower class drunks were deemed to have inherited weak wills from their parents. Over the years it seems we’ve had a love/hate relationship with alcohol; its been included in various religious ceremonies, prohibited, restricted for use by physicians only and given away for free to cajole people into various things. The Temperance Societies sprang up with the intention of dissuading people  from drinking to excess; more latterly their purpose shifted to promote complete abstinence from ‘the demon drink.’  I’m sure some of our police and hospital staff wish temperance as regards alcohol might come back into fashion on Friday and Saturday evenings but something tells me that’s unlikely to happen.

Today it’s interesting to observe our societies through the lens of temperance; moderation and self-restraint in behaviour or expression.

I mull over the behaviour of people and organisations a fair bit and observe the world happening around me.  Why are so many pay-day loan companies and weight loss clubs advertising heavily within a few days of Christmas?  I’m being shown images of villas, swimming pools, palm trees and beaches at every opportunity yet it’s zero degrees outside, grey and raining. Hmm.

Call me cynical but these companies realise from time to time we all suffer illnesses of the will, whether eating to excess during the holidays or being unable to resist the prospect of sunnier climbs when faced with the depths of midwinter. They understand our habits better than we do and they use them to make profit from us. Next time you’re eating out, notice whether the person serving you offers you something you haven’t asked for – a chocolate bar to go with your coffee, some bread or nibbles while you wait for your main meal. It isn’t being offered because you look like you’re malnourished and its unlikely to be free of charge. It’s a direct challenge to temperance – how much moderation and self-restraint can you draw upon today?  Companies seem to bank on the fact our wills will be weak.

Temperance is also prevalent (or not as the case may be) when we’re out on the roads. I recently witnessed a lack of self-restraint during a road rage incident.  Driver A decided he wanted to switch lanes at a roundabout and didn’t appreciate that someone else was in his way. Driver A got so annoyed he jumped out of his car and began shouting and threatening  completely innocent Driver B.  As an observer I thought angry Driver A made himself look like a prize turnip but it was a situation that could easily have escalated out of control had Driver B decided not to tolerate the torrent of abuse.

What is it that turns people into prize turnips behind the wheel of a motor vehicle? And if we stop to think about it, how often do we over indulge in food, alcohol, purchases, unhelpful attitudes or scarce resources.  Old-fashioned it may be but the risk of becoming a prize turnip is real if we forget about temperance.  “Temperance puts wood on the fire, meal in the barrel, flour in the tub, money in the purse, credit in the country, contentment in the house, clothes on the children, vigour in the body, intelligence in the brain and spirit in the whole constitution” – Benjamin Franklin.


The Temperance Fountain in Tompkins Square Par...


12 thoughts on “Time for Temperance… or prize turnips

  1. Pingback: January Wrap Up – Happy New February!! | Purnimodo

  2. Wonderful post!!! Och.. how nice it would be if each word we had to learn in English class was explained in this manner. It’s a beautiful word. People work their butts off for things they deep down don’t even want. I saw a TedTalk the other day in which one of the talkers compared those big corporation with drugs dealers. Have one free in the hope you’ll get hooked forever.

    One thing has me the thinking though. Sometimes the most beautiful works of art, we enjoy today, were created in a state of being bat-shit drunk….


    • My English lessons would have been more interesting if they followed your idea Purnimodo. I think, fortunately, the drivers of big corporations differ from many of our talented artists. Businesses want profits; many historic artists lived in poverty during their lifetimes thought it’s true many were also drunk, drugged or both when doing their best work. Genius and insanity are often said to be just a few millimetres apart…


  3. Seems to me that it’s tied very much to self awareness. Do you see what your decisions are doing to you? …to others? This sense of insight does not come easy. To possess it you need to have experienced loss, pain, deprivation…even if vicariously. As a parent/guardian/friend you can extrapolate a bit on this and infer that sometimes we need to help our little loved ones fall…gently. The hand that picks them back up can help point out the error and perhaps also point out a better path. Just a thought.


    • You’re right, it takes a lot of practice to become self aware and the journey is an ongoing one because we all change over time. Knowing what ‘pushes out buttons’ in a good or bad way and knowing we’re free to chose how we react in any situation isn’t something we’re born with. I did consider trying to talk the rather angry Driver A into being less angry. Sadly I thought I might get punched or even stabbed (you just don’t know these days) for my efforts such was his level of annoyance.


  4. What an excellent piece of writing. I, as have most of us, failed to exhibit temperance a time or two. Unfortunately in this society where “instant gratification” is the phrase of the day, people no longer feel they need to show much restraint. A sad state of affairs it is. Be well Tracey. 🙂


    • Thank you, there are so many things that we seem to have lost over time and I think you’re right, we’ve become an “instant gratification” and “throw away” society…. but there’s a high price for living that way as our landfills, deforestation and lack of community spirit tend to show. I wonder what future generations will be like? I hope this is cyclical and a return to some of our seemingly abandoned traits is not too far away


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