We live in a world where passion for one’s duties has long since vanished. Oh, there is certainly passion in post-modern civilization. But it’s a passion for self-gratification–perfection in the things that make the individual happy, comfortable. In centuries past, men possessed a similar lust. But it was far less ego-centric. It was a lust for perfection. In every aspect of their lives. And those who were truly great, remembered, and successful achieved this level of character while never abandoning self-control, prudence, and vision.
Sprezzatura is an Italian word first found in Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier. Castiglione defined sprezzatura as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” It is the mastery of one’s art–an art, though, not defined by the arts as a body, but rather the arts of living: the art of interacting; the art of learning; and the art of contributing.
The Oxford English Dictionary has also adopted the word, aptly defining it as “studied carelessness.” Somewhat of an oxymoron, it is hard to define. Sprezzatura is obsessive-compulsion, without psychosis. It is attention to personal detail, without superficiality. It applies to every area of life. Clothing. Transportation. Food. Conversation. Thought.
Many advocate sprezzatura as a “way of life”–a path to “finding your true self.” As a Christian, I believe that’s nonsense. In my mind, the concept of sprezzatura is nothing more than a habit. In sum, it is a careful blend of perfectionism and humility that realizes that its role is one of assisting me in pursuing my life goals, not controlling them. It is a tool. Nothing more.
More pertinently, I chose the word as the title of this blog because I believe the concept is important. It is something that is largely absent from contemporary society. We no longer carry ourselves confidently, prepared to defend our views and challenge others’. We don’t dress to convey messages of maturity or professionalism. And we don’t exercise our minds and tongues so that our every conversation, whether trivial or life-changing, will be a productive one.
But we should do these things. And as Christians, I believe we must. As for non-Christians, the instinct of self-preservation should be sufficient to drive them to desire to pursue these things. But, perhaps not. For they lack ultimate purpose in life. And it is this ultimate purpose–glorifying God–by which sincere Christians are defined. A poorly spoken, shoddily presented advocate will likely be just as ineffective as a compromised and worldly one. There is a balance that must be struck, and I believe the word sprezzatura aptly defines that balance.