India Arie was born in 1975 in Detroit and moved to Atlanta when she was 13 years old. After high school, her mother encouraged her to learn and play the guitar. She rose to popularity early in the 2000s with her song “Video” on the album Acoustic Soul.
Although this may be one of her more recognizable moments, one of her more brilliant (and there is sooo much brilliance #swoon) is the song called “Back to the Middle” or “Come Back“. (I’ve embedded a live performance but the hyperlinks include a video with lyrics and the genius lyrics).
Raul Midon is a baaad, baaaad man.
“She is, twenty five, spent over half of her life
So afraid to speak her mind, it’s such a shame
Cause what a brilliant mind she has
And now she’s been introduced toconfidence She doesn’t see, that she is bordering on arrogance When will she learn, to come back to the middle
He is, a young black man, grew up without his father
And now it falls into his hands, to protect his mother
Cause if he doesn’t, well then who will, his older brother lives in fear
Of everything, especially, trying to fill his father’s shoes
Respectively, they go to extremes, of masculine and feminine
Chasing dreams, but they keep on falling
Cause they don’t know no balance
When will they learn, to come back to the middle.”
Aristotle is a philosopher and scientist born in Ancient Greece. As a teenager he joined Plato’s school in Athens and remained there for over twenty years. He literally wrote about EVERYTHING from math and science to government, politics, theology, and linguistics.
One of the topics he covers extensively in his series of smalls books called Niomachean Ethics, is virtue and the specific qualities and nature that virtue takes on.
In everything that is continuous and divisible it is possible to take more, less, or an equal amount, and that either in terms of the thing itself or relatively to us; and the equal is an intermediate between excess and defect. By the intermediate in the object I mean that which is equidistant from each of the extremes, which is one and the same for all men; by the intermediate relatively to us that which is neither too much nor too little- and this is not one, nor the same for all.
Basically, Aristotle and India are saying the same thing! Come back to the middle!
…virtue must have the quality of aiming at the intermediate. I mean moral virtue; for it is this that is concerned with passions and actions, and in these there is excess, defect, and the intermediate. For instance, both fear and confidence and appetite and anger and pity and in general pleasure and pain may be felt both too much and too little, and in both cases not well; but to feel them at the right times, with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way, is what is both intermediate and best, and this is characteristic of virtue. Similarly with regard to actions also there is excess, defect, and the intermediate. Now virtue is concerned with passions and actions, in which excess is a form of failure, and so is defect, while the intermediate is praised and is a form of success; and being praised and being successful are both characteristics of virtue. Therefore virtue is a kind of mean, since, as we have seen, it aims at what is intermediate.
Basically, the homie Aristotle is saying to avoid the excess and the deficiency of any and all traits associated with virtue. The perfect example is confidence. The one that India uses in her song: “And now she’s been introduced to confidence. She doesn’t see, that she is bordering on arrogance. When will she learn, to come back to the middle.” We all know that no only is arrogance a dangerous trait to have in certain situations, but it does not work well in social situations or contribute overall to the goal of happiness. Arrogance can be confusing and stunting. Conversely, self-consciousness and insecurity can be just as debilitating and limiting. There has to be an intermediate. A median. Or, as some refer to it, the Golden Mean.
Another example might be Bravery versus Fear. Soldiers that are too brave are hazards to their units. Take Leigh the Soldier for example. She would be reckless and run into battle without all the details, endangering the people around them. Leigh’s intentions may be the best, but her bravado is not taking on the context of virtuousness. I think Aristotle and India might be like “Aye, slow down, find the middle Leigh.”
On the flipside you have Tom. Tommy is afraid of his own shadow. He would be a terrible soldier. And it is obvious why his fear would not be considered virtuous. It is a hindrance to his personal growth and to the safety of his unit.
I have no idea whether or not India is all up on her Aristotelian Ethics. But these ideas of moderation and intermediacy in virtue repeat throughout history from Ancient Greece all the way to 2005.
As we reflect on the lessons we teach our youth, and things that we do on a daily basis for ourselves, I think that it is important to acknowledge areas of excess as well as areas of deficiency.
Like India said, family structures and social projections have led us to increased binaries in everything including gender: “Respectively they go through extremes of masculine and feminine.” If the nature of virtue is in the middle (the intermediate) then maybe we need to challenge things or constructions that we consider in the binary (there is either A or B). If it is feminine to be sweet, patient, and committed while it is masculine to be brave, ambitious, and just then would it not be best to live in the intermediacy of these ideas of feminine and masculine? (I’m not suggesting we all wear gender neutral clothing. Just embrace a set of gender neutral virtues.)
Would not the most virtuous man and woman be the ones who find the right “golden mean” for them between all virtues? I think this line of question challenges hypermasculinty and hyperfemininity as relevant and useful structures for society. I know that gender presents numerous differences in a variety of areas from psychology to biology. However, the emphasis on the binary nature of gender is very convenient for divide/conquer tactics sociologically and for selling baby shit.
I don’t want to dive too much into gender. However, the overwhelming reliance on binaries in all walks of life: Democratic/Republican, Liberal/Conservative, Northerner/Southerner, Gay/Straight, Different/Normal, American/Non-American.
What we might all might be sorely lacking is some good ole fashion training in virtue and the golden mean. We need to get back to the middle folks.
So let’s learn. Let’s build. Let’s grow. You already know! (yeah I’m gonna let that wack rhyme remain. Lol. #JudgeFreeZone)