Ethical Orientations: The “Golden Mean”

The basic principle of the golden mean, laid down by Aristotle 2,500 years ago is moderation, or striving for a balance between extremes. A related concept in business communication is the idea of “satisficing,” or doing a little of what everyone wants but with no one getting exactly what s/he wants, essentially a compromise between interested parties. The difference is that the golden mean is a principle of moderation intended to serve the best interest of one’s stakeholders and publics, rather than a tactic of negotiation.

Adherents of the golden mean are not expected to do what another individual or organization wants simply to pacify them, but would choose to take a moderate path rather than acting on extremes. The golden mean focuses on the middle ground between two extremes, but as Aristotle suggests, the middle ground is usually closer to one extreme than the other. For example, in the case of courage, the extremes might be recklessness and cowardice. Being closer to recklessness would be the sweet spot or “mean,” rather than being in the middle, which might represent inaction.

Similarly, in terms of organization to public communication, a communicative balance would be closer to open information and abundant communication, rather than limited information and no communication. But completely open communication is both difficult and unwise, so the golden mean is where most organizations should be.

Q: Isn’t the golden mean sort of a wishy-washy approach that tries to avoid making any waves?

Q: Is the idea of the golden mean closer to a situationalist or absolutist approach?

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