Moderation…from a Pythagoras cup

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Most of you know Pythagorean Theorem. You remember…that formula you learned in 9th or 10th grade math class in-between trying not to be an awkward adolescent and trying to be cool, which defaulted in making you an awkward adolescent anyway. Many know about the Theorem, not many know about the cup.

Several years ago on a sweltering August day, my wife and I were walking through the streets of Athens.   The small sidewalks were crowded with tourists, doors to shops jutted open almost knocking you off the walkway, and the large green cross, the symbol of European pharmacy, brightly beamed selling pepto-bismol, condoms, and wine side-by-side. Streets extended from the central plaza like a concrete octopus. We were looking for souvenirs to bring home as gifts. The door creaked open to a dimly lit shop. The shelves were dusty and some of the merchandise was coated in it. This was the first sign of the Greek economic crash that I saw firsthand. With bronze statues of Hermes and Dionysus and soaps of Grecian olive oil in our hands, I saw this beautiful cup. As we looked and wondered how many ounces it could hold, the shop owner came over.

“What is this?” I asked perplexed by the pestle-like ceramic shooting out from the inside.

“Ah,” he began with what felt like a long drawn out exaggeration, but wasn’t.  “This is the Pythagoras Cup.”

My wife and I looked at each other. The Pythagoras Cup? Is this a Greek trick like the Trojan Horse, but instead of getting through the walls of Troy it gets into the bill section of your wallet, your suitcase, and eventually into your garage where you sell it at your yard sale twenty years later.

“You don’t know the story do you?” rhetorically reminding me of Watto from Star Wars Episode 1. “Let me tell you.”

The historian in him was brought to life, “Everyone knows Pythagoras for the math equation. You know, a2+b2=c2. Pythagoras was also a civil engineer. He was an architect, a builder, a project manager. He was overseeing a project and saw that after lunch the workers were not coming back to the job or coming back and making mistakes. After a few days he decided to see what they were doing on the lunch break. You know what they were doing? They were getting drunk on wine!” He laughed loudly. “So because the project was falling behind the project manager needed to keep it going. Using his noimosyni. Honey how do you say in English?” shouting to the beautifully aged woman near the register. She answered, “Smart. Um, intelligent.”

“Yes intelligent. He created the cup. Watch,” directing us to follow him with a cock of his head. We walked over to a small sink in the back of the shop. He poured in some water. “See here, this is how much wine you can drink. To this line. Cannot go over this line.”

He poured in more water to surpass the line and the cup drained like an out-of-towner in a Manhattan Starbucks.  We bought it. The pictures above are of our cup. It holds about 3 ounces and if you add about .5 ounces more the cup empties itself.   The picture on the cup is of Aphrodite and it is handmade and modeled of the Grecian wares circa 800 BC. For those that wish to understand the physics, here is a link to the science of the cup.

Why am I sharing this? The Greeks believed that enjoying anything was an exercise in moderation. To be moderate you have to be aware and to be aware you have to be attentive and to be attentive you have to be aware and if you are aware you are practicing moderation, a loop of awareness. In substance use treatment there is a controversial model known as harm reduction. This model calls for reducing the potential harm of use if the user cannot be abstinent. Examples are needle exchange programs, drinking limits, and only using during designated times. This is important because in our everyday lives we may get caught imbibing. We lose our awareness to set our own limits. Once we lose the awareness to set our own limits, we are no longer in control. When we lose control we are at the mercy of others and lose a sizeable amount of our power, efficacy, and autonomy. Other people then take control and set the limits for us. Simply put, if you can’t control yourself, someone else will do it for you.  A position you and many others would rather not be in.

Practice: There is a part of your life that you want to be in more control of. Begin by identifying it. Write three ways that you are not in control of that part of your life. Write three ways that you can take the control back using actions. Out of those three ways, start with the simplest and most practical. Start as soon as possible.

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