One of the most appealing things for me about Aristotle’s ethics is him bringing the word ‘flourish’ into my parenting vocabulary. Flourish-flourish-flourish. Lovely.
According to Ari’ you can do too much. And if you do, that is neither good nor virtuous. Huzzah – those hours spent in front of The Great British Bake Up aren’t idleness – I’m flourishing don’t ya know.
Try suggesting this to your boss in your next performance appraisal when you are challenged for taking that leisurely lunch three weeks last Friday. Go on, I dare you. Because in this more is more world, Aristotle’s less is more philosophy jars at first. Unless, perhaps, you work for a gardener.
Let’s say you want an apple tree. Do you plant one scraggy sapling in a field devoid of nutrients and then ignore it? No. Because you risk it perishing as a result of your neglect.
Do you plant 100 trees on a tiny plot in order to hedge your bets, spray them hourly with chemicals to keep the pests at bay, and keep them all protected under cloches as long as possible? No. Because that would be doing too much. Trying too hard. And the outcome of your efforts? You risk killing it.
So you do something in the middle. You plant a sapling in the best spot you can find. You give it space, a little room to grow. Maybe you put a bit of protection in place while young, backing off more and more as it matures. Maybe, if you’re that way inclined, you hug it now and then. And while that isn’t enough to guarantee it will survive or be the best apple tree ever, you know you will have done all you can. The rest is down to the tree, and elements beyond your control.
And this isn’t lazy. It isn’t saying that you can’t be bothered. That you don’t care. It’s just practical common sense. It’s how you do your best to enable your sapling to flourish.
Talk to any gardener, gardening is back breaking enough work without putting ridiculous demands on yourself that aren’t, in the end, going to be of benefit to the plants.
Talk to any parent. It’s hard enough without making it harder just so we can feel we are Being. Our. Best. Indeed, we could just end up doing more harm than good.
But where is that line? What is too much or too little? When does a good parent turn into a bad one? How little can we get away with doing before we risk short changing our children of all this wonderful planet has to offer?
What does the virtuous parent look like? How can we flourish? You tell me!