Habit molds style

Our favored [psychological] defenses become habitual mental manuevers. What has worked well in key moments, keeping anxiety under control with rewarding results, is likely to be tried again. Epstein, the novelist, found as a child that isolation fended off the sorrow of his father’s death; that same cutting off of feeling offers itself years later when he confronts the horrors of Holocaust. Anna Freud’s patient, whose feelings were damaged by her father’s scorn, grows up to be a sarcastic, scornful woman.

Successful defense becomes habit, habit molds style. […] We set bounds on the range of our thoughts and feelings, limit our freedom of perception and action, in order to feel at peace.

— from Vital Lies, Simple Truths by Daniel Goleman, pg. 131 [italics mine]

When I was a teenager, I was an avid reader of George Will. I liked the style of his writing; a style that seemed learned, authoritative, and acerbic; qualities to which I aspired.

Reading those columns from the 1980s now, though, I see a different side of that style: peevish, obtuse, strangled.

The difference? When I read those columns the first time, 20 years ago, I was wound very, very tight. I feared. Feared everything. I circumscribed my life. I thought I needed to protect myself.

Will’s style resonated with my way of living. If I could be confident in my grasp of reason and tradition, and ground myself in those, then I would not need the self-confidence I did not have. And, as a bonus, I could see myself as a better person than people without as strong a grounding in philosophy and history (i.e., everyone around me at the time).

Habit molds style.

Thank God it can re-mold it later.

How does your style reflect you?

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