As a self-professed word nerd, I know a good one when I see one. Sophrosyne is one of those words…
Its origins are Greek, derived from the word sṓphrōn, meaning prudent. And like so many good, foreign words (as with some of my favorites… weltschmerz, yuugen, or hygge, for instance), sophrosyne lacks an appropriate equivalent in English or in any other language.
The meaning, though, can be well understood:
“Sophrosyne is an ancient Greek concept of an ideal of excellence of character and soundness of mind, which when combined in one well-balanced individual leads to other qualities, such as temperance, moderation, prudence, purity, and self-control.” –Wikipedia
While easily understood, achieving any ideal — Greek or otherwise — often seems a more godly undertaking than a human one. But sophrosyne is enticingly earthly, boring even.
Temperance, moderation, prudence?
Sophrosyne doesn’t exactly sound like the life of the party or the stand-out virtue of the heroic. And perhaps that’s the point. Just because a virtue lacks a certain luster, doesn’t make it easy to attain — especially in our culture, which tends to court excess as a hallmark of happiness.
For myself, I can confess to living a downright imprudent life these past few years as I struggled to piece myself together again after a big breakup, move, and emotional trauma. I don’t necessarily feel shame about it — I wasn’t always behaving wisely or with temperance, but those were my coping mechanisms at the time. Ultimately though, I know that way of living isn’t sustainable and/or healthy.
Now, I’m in a different phase, a new season. And though it feels a very fine line I’m walking sometimes, this season of sophrosyne (like the word itself I serendipitously discovered just a few months ago) has come into my life at the right time, and I’m embracing it.