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MODERATION. I hate the word. In a non-moderate kind of way. It races up my spine like nails scratching down a blackboard.

Someone has said to you, “I like you in moderation“. Huh?

This, like Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence speaking to Romeo, “Love each other in moderation. That is the key to long-lasting love. Too fast is as bad as too slow” is just too confusing for me. What genuine meaning is there in love or anything else in life that corresponds to the word “moderation”?

I spend a lot of time when I speak and write trying to find and use the word that comes closest to expressing the exact point I’m making. English is a huge language vocabularily – and it’s expanding too, I just made up the word vocabularily, and you probably understand its meaning— which means we can say what we want in the clearest, subtlest, and most pinpoint way. I can shoot an arrow metaphorically and hit the bullseye 99% of the time because of this wonderful language. That’s cool because you can’t do that in every language out there!

I hope that people who read what I write understand what I’m saying because I expend a good deal of effort trying to make myself clear (NOTE: to be honest, this IS a work-in-progress). Verbal and written communication aren’t art forms in the sense that the Mona Lisa, or perhaps poetry, is art…it shouldn’t be left up to the receiver to decode and find their own individual interpretation of the words. When we communicate with each other, we shouldn’t have to say, “This what I think he meant to say with this statement”.

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

-Donald Rumsfeld

Obfuscation is not the AIM.

Many people are just damned lazy about their use of language.

Communication is fraught with often innocent people who don’t think in terms of how their words will be heard and construed by others. So often a simple statement in an e-mail comes across as heartless, insensitive, and hurtful, or just plain not understandable. “Did she say she’s vegan or a Brontosaurus burger eater?” A moment or two spent in thinking of how a phrase could possibly be interpreted by another person would go a hugely long way in smoothing our interactions with friends and colleagues.

But occasionally, an ambiguous word pops up that somehow gets into frequent usage, and the sad thing is, it means many different things to many different people.  The word I’m thinking of here, of course, is MODERATION.

If I remove 2 pickles and a slice of cheese, then that’s moderation. Cutting it by 2/3rds seems too extreme, wouldn’t you agree?

In the recent U.S. election, Mitt Romney was described as a “Moderate Republican”. Romney was moderate like a HUMMER is a compact car. Someone who thinks that a)healthcare is a frill for the upper echelon,b) who believes that only heterosexuals are his equals, c)who fancies women bound in binders…well…this stretches moderation as it might be interpreted like gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe on a scorching summer day.

When I go to see my doctor I’ll sometimes mention that I’d like to lose 10 pounds so that I can run my marathon races a bit faster. What does she say? “Try eating in moderation”. Ohhh…

SUPER, I think…

Well, right now I eat a large sized bowl of butterscotch ice cream for dessert each evening. Moderation would be scaling that back by about a quarter cup…problem solved; the weight should drop off now.

Not so fast, I discover. My dietitian wife who knows far more about these things tells me that moderation in this case means not only should I have a “small” bowl of ice cream just twice a week, but I should stop eating French fries and potato chips altogether. My brain tells me that this isn’t moderation; this is starvation, a far cry further.

When a 400-pound man is told to exercise by his health professional, the statement often used is “exercise in moderation”. I’m thinking that a 400 lb man got to be 400 pounds by walking to the fridge and telling himself that he’s had his workout for the day. So moderation means a slight uptick of activity, something like walking the long way around the house to the fridge. That should do it, right?

An anorexic teen who eats next to nothing and is told to use moderation in exercise so that they can gain some weight will hear moderation to mean, “only run 10 miles every day instead of the 12 you’ve been doing all along…and maybe only purge once each day instead of twice.” Not helpful.

Moderation is a useless word and does more harm than good. Let’s dump it as a tool for communication and substitute REAL tools with REAL meaning.

Eat 1500 calories, and ice cream just one time each week.

Run only 5 miles 3 times each week.

I love you with all my heart.”

These statements have real meaning and are concrete in their message.

Let’s use the word moderation, not in moderation, but oh, shall we say…NEVER. It doesn’t have a use in our language other than to confuse and perhaps allow us to rationalize the things we know are bad for us. And there are so many ways I can rationalize the bad things I do without going within a city block of the word moderation.

Words are meant to communicate and have meaning.

Moderation…YOU are a sad excuse for a word.

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