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All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 214.
Strive ye by day and night to cultivate your unity to the fullest degree. Let your thoughts dwell on your own spiritual development, and close your eyes to the deficiencies of other souls. Act ye in such wise, showing forth pure and goodly deeds, and modesty and humility, that ye will cause others to be awakened. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 203.
One of the greatest contributions to the world’s philosophy came from Plato, who first described what he called “the Four Cardinal Virtues:”
- prudence or wisdom
We’ve covered the first three of Plato’s Cardinal Virtues, so let’s look at the final one. When you hear the old, almost antiquated word “temperance” you might initially think about the Temperance Movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, which led to the passage of Prohibition laws in many different countries around the world.
But in this case, as it’s used by Plato and the positive psychology movement, and listed in the Character Strengths and Virtues Handbook, temperance means the inner traits of forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, and self control. Temperance, as a character strength and virtue, basically means moderating human behavior so as not to injure yourself or anyone else.
Temperance and moderation both come from the ancient ideal of the Golden Mean, which Aristotle defined as the mid-point between a trait’s excess and its deficiency, the mean between two extremes. Courage, for example, represents the Golden Mean between cowardliness and being foolhardy; while humility strikes the Golden Mean between self-love and self-loathing. This classical idea, which we now know better as the virtue of moderation, encourages self-knowledge and wise restraint.
Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha’i Faith all ask believers to practice temperance. Buddhism recognizes temperance and self-control as a significant part of Buddha’s Eightfold Path. Hinduism calls temperance and self-restraint dama, and considers it one of the cardinal human virtues. Judaism, especially in Solomon’s Book of Proverbs, asks for temperance and control of one’s desires and passions. In Christianity, the New Testament terms temperance one of the Fruits of the Spirit. Muslims often describe Islam as “the religion of temperance and moderation.” The Baha’i teachings emphasize moderation in all things, and list temperance as one of the main virtues of the spiritual person:
The spiritually learned must be characterized by both inward and outward perfections; they must possess a good character, an enlightened nature, a pure intent, as well as intellectual power, brilliance and discernment, intuition, discretion and foresight, temperance, reverence, and a heartfelt fear of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 33-34.
The core qualities of temperance and moderation—humility, self-control, mercy and forgiveness—recognize that human beings have fallible natures. We are all imperfect, this character strength acknowledges, and that means understanding our own failings and the failings of every other person. It also means adopting a merciful and forgiving attitude toward those failings.
We can best develop these positive character traits of temperance and moderation, the Baha’i teachings say, by first considering and weighing our own faults:
It is my hope that you may consider this matter, that you may search out your own imperfections and not think of the imperfections of anybody else. Strive with all your power to be free from imperfections. Heedless souls are always seeking faults in others. What can the hypocrite know of others’ faults when he is blind to his own? …As long as a man does not find his own faults, he can never become perfect. Nothing is more fruitful for man than the knowledge of his own shortcomings. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 244.