Become A LifeCraft Member!

“Unless the spaces in a building are arranged in a sequence which corresponds to their degrees of privateness, the visits made by strangers, friends, guests, clients, family, will always be a little awkward…
[speaking of the custom in Peru…] Formal friends, such as the priest, the daughter’s boyfriend, and friends from work may be invited in, but tend to be limited to a well-furnished and maintained part of the house, the sala. This room is sheltered from the clutter and more obvious informality of the rest of the house.” Christopher Alexander, A Pattern Language

If formality has a place in our lives, it should likewise have a room in our home.

Yet we are told that formality distances us from actual life, that informality is always more authentic. Since people do not naturally interact with formality, why should we impose an unnatural ‘form’ on ourselves? And why should we have a place in our home designated for formal gatherings?

It is clear that some intimate interactions should be informal–in other words spontaneous, not according to pre-determined forms.

But I think we have misjudged formality. This is understandable. Forms of interacting can indeed become empty, and can exist apart from the right inner dispositions. Pharisee-ism is always a danger. We have taken a turn toward free-expression, and the importance of ‘being ourselves.’

Yet we can need help in ‘being ourselves,’ especially in situations of irreducible awkwardness or tension.

Formalities of interaction have an irreplaceable role, especially on certain occasions. They set a context that encourages good dispositions, and they set boundaries within which we can exercise creativity. When a suitor comes to introduce himself for the first time to the parents of a young lady, the meeting is usually, and rightfully, fraught with a certain pressure. Here formality, rooted in tradition, is freeing; it aids all involved to navigate a complicated reality.

Hospitality, a practice trans-culturally recognized as having profound human significance, often rightly demands a certain formality. As Alexander notes, to shelter a visitor from the informality of other places in our home is a way of showing respect. This is not a matter simply of hiding our clutter; our guests are worthy of an honor we show them precisely through how we maintain a special room, and receive them into it.

Hilaire Belloc, relating how in his region all men address one another as Mr. —-, notes: “for twin brothers rocked in one cradle give each other ceremonious observance here.”

Ceremonious observance. The very words ring with a beauty of something lost; but it is something that we can try to recover, at least in our own homes.

This is the seventh of a series HomeTour taking a thoughtful tour through a house, room by room, based on the writings of Christopher Alexander.

Christopher Alexander (1936–) was born in Austria and is currently an emeritus professor of architecture at the University of California, where he taught for almost forty years. He has been widely influential through his theories of architecture, and is especially known for his 1977 book A Pattern Language.

Image: When a Suitor Meets Her Family, Carl Herpfer (1836-1897)

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:
When Medicine Becomes a Business

When Medicine Becomes a Business

“And it belongs to...the medical art to produce health, not to make money. Nevertheless, some men turn every art into a means of money-making, as if this is the end.” Aristotle, Politics The state of medical practice in our country and in the world has been brought...

read more
Announcing: Man of the Household Course NOW FREE

Announcing: Man of the Household Course NOW FREE

I have decided to make a big change at LifeCraft in order to bring my household courses to a broader audience. Troubled times call for a sober and serious response. Social and political dysfunction remind us that our households need to be a bastion of authentic human...

read more
Friendship after the Election

Friendship after the Election

“...but we do say that a city has concord when men have the same opinion about what is to their interest, and choose the same actions, and do what they have resolved in common.” “...for if people do not watch it carefully the common good is soon destroyed. The result...

read more

Pin It on Pinterest