‘Lifestyle’ Lament

The interplay between the person and community is not a style. It is, rather, the human way of life



Who me? Lament my lifestyle? No, I don’t even know what it is. But I do lament and bemoan the overuse of the word lifestyle. That is, if it has any worthy use at all.

Why do I take umbrage? Of course, there’s a place for style. I wish there were more of it. So I’m okay with hairstyle, though not a combover. Same for “shoe style,” but nothing with Velcro. I like a neighborhood eatery with dishes “al estilo Michoacán.” And some people are stylish. Even classy. Remember Lauren Bacall?

Lifestyle is a different matter. For a start, the term is trivializing. Your life and mine are not ornaments or decorations. They are not for consumption. Life, as Aristotle puts it, is the “to be” of living things. Human life is rational in kind; it is free in self-direction and immortal in destiny.

In contrast, style suggests the variable and idiosyncratic. It connotes the subjective and even arbitrary. It courts the approval of an audience. Style is marketable, and it’s often the product of “influencers.” But a life well-lived is none of these.

Your life and mine are not well-lived if they are spongy or plastic. Nor are they flourishing simply because we say that they are. Public approval is as much a danger as a reward. We are not commodities, however much some would like to market us.

The contrast deepens. Style suggests taste. And in matters of taste ought we not to be tolerant? Isn’t argument out of place? De gustibus non disputandum est. It would seem to follow, then, that our lives are such that we can “style” them as we wish and however we wish.

The political philosopher Robert Beiner blows the whistle on this kind of civic desertion. He writes, “It would be insane, theoretically and politically, to regard choice of ‘lifestyles’ as a private affair; for if it is not a matter of public concern whether members of a society are good citizens or bad citizens, what is of legitimate public concern”? Our lives, as rational dependent animals, are inescapably intertwined.

To be sure, each and every human being is unique. But that uniqueness is a gift, not a project we promote or a product for consumption. In that our lives are unique, they uniquely contribute to the communities in which we live. These communities, if authentic, include each of us in the common good that we help create.

The interplay between the person and community is not a style. It is, rather, the human way of life. Unlike style, a way has a direction and a purpose. As a way of life, it is open to and, indeed, welcomes a range of cultural expressions. Thus, the Amish way of life makes a distinct contribution to the human enterprise, as does the Navajo way of life. Let’s hope that ours does as much. But other cultural forms undermine the human enterprise. Thus, consumerism and individualism and militarism threaten both the natural and human ecology.

A final contrast: In John 14:6 we read “Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” It would be ludicrous to replace “I am the way” with the hopelessly jejune “I am the style…” He alone is the Way that we follow to our Father.


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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