The Way of BeautyStyle

Everyone has a theory about style. In fashion, style connotes a particular way of dressing, a stretch from its original meaning – stylus as an instrument for writing. Styles come and go: the unisex, the gothic, the hippie and the preppie, the androgynous, the anti-style or the ‘anything goes’ style. Then there is the classic look. Haute couturiers like Hubert de Givenchy and Oleg Cassini designed elegant fashions for elegant women, Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, “first lady of fashion.” They wore un-adorned, graceful lines that enhanced the feminine figure. In a gown or dress, suit or slacks, they preferred the simplicity of elegance – simplex munditiis. Though attractive, they played it down, and, through the years, their style has become classic and always in season.

Most art forms cultivate style. Without it, there is no artistic expression. Italian music sings; German music favors counterpoint. Mozart had it all. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Ginevra de’ Benci, serene in their pose, contrast with the anguished portraits of Edvard Munch. Calm is to Japanese what symmetry is to Palladian architecture. Oscar Wilde’s prose is as spare as William Faulkner’s is complex. As an editor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis frowned on using adjectives. Strong nouns and verbs were what she favored. Her editorial style matched her style in dress, simplex munditiis.

Handwriting Style

Oscar Wilde had it right: “One’s style is one’s own signature.” But what is the style of one’s signature? Most public schools no longer teach cursive writing, whether the traditional Palmer or Zaner-Bloser or method. Many young people rarely use a pen, least of all, a fountain pen. Years ago, those educated in Catholic schools were trained in the art of beautiful penmanship. After a semester’s practicing circles and slants with a fine point pen, they took an exam in the subject and were graded according to the standards of either method. Though slightly different in the formation of letters, these methods stress the circular and right-ward slanted motion. A beautiful penmanship exemplifies the meaning of calligraphy, beautiful writing. A handwritten note or letter usually contains warmer and more personal messages than the typed word or email.

The interrelationship of handwriting and personality traits is a fascinating study, and the internet provides numerous sites that analyze one’s handwriting as a clue to one’s character. President Lincoln’s handwriting and signature were characterized by consistent oval letters that were even and well-spaced. Apparently, his handwriting was an indicator of his personality, described as well-organized, meticulous, and consistent. The similarity of his handwriting of paragraphs with his signature shows that the inner and outer person was the same. It expressed honesty and high integrity.

Leadership Style

Styles of leadership affect us all. In the armed forces, leaders assume a top-down form of leadership without wielding power for its own sake. Tyrants wield power, and it generally corrupts them. In business, CEOs may delegate, while other micro-manage. Weak leaders fear initiative and creativity from their workers. In the collegial style, leaders inspire, set the example, and, with vision, point the way forward to advance the purpose of the organization.  In a leadership of collegiality, esprit de corps runs high, each member contributing to the whole according to God-given talents.

The Leadership Style of Jesus

In the act of washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, taking the role of a servant, Jesus exemplifies the style of leadership he desires for his Church: “As I have done to you, so you must also do to one another.” (Jn 13:14) Peter understands that the God who is above him stoops lovingly to wash the filth from his feet; he takes to himself the sin of others. The Master’s action makes Peter recoil with horror, but Jesus warns: “If I do not wash you, you will have no part in me.” (Jn 13:8)  Jesus’ leadership style is the service of love. It is his unique signature.

Peter is free to refuse and is poised to do so, but Jesus presses for his consent. If the apostle wants to identify with his Master, he must also choose his Master’s leadership style which he in no way wants. It is a reversal of the world’s order: Jesus is servant to all. Peter realizes that what Jesus has done to him and for him, he must repeat to and for others regardless of race, office, status, or gender. Jesus nudges Peter, the first among equals, to serve as last, lowest, and least. The action of Jesus is neither a sentimental gesture nor a hermeneutical exercise. It is theology of the heart whose depths obligate Christians, noblesse oblige, to ponder his action in personal terms: what to do for Christ and for others. Though Jesus renounces earthly power, he bequeaths to his church his own authority of service to others. Vatican II offered a leadership style of collegiality in which objective content and its pastoral expression are interconnected and integrated.

The simplicity of elegance need not be linked with class or wealth. It is simply a classical style characterized by care, quality, and balance, proportion, symmetry, and restraint. The best wellbeing centers will tell you that these virtues can regenerate physical and mental wellbeing, and both with the simplicity of elegance. These nuances of beauty and good taste bring meaning to life. Everyone has a style, even if it is anti-style. Style in fashion, artistic form, in handwriting, or leadership — all different aspects of style, these are clues to one’s identity as a person. “One’s style is one’s own signature.”

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