Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Control and Restraint

There are two reasons for writing this blog. 

The first is that I mentioned to another woman about my age, who is fast becoming a firm friend, that I had recently been at a very formal event with a lot of people who had shown a very great deal of restraint where I showed very little.

I pointed out that it wasn’t uncommon. I have a huge amount of control, but very little restraint. Almost everybody else, it seems to me, has the opposite. My new friend laughed, and sympathised, feeling that, while she had never quite put it in so many words, she was more like me than she was like other people. I had a lot of fun at the event, more perhaps than did other people.

The second reason for me writing this blog was that I had a conversation, recently, with a Swedish writer about words, and translation, in particular, and I wondered how this blog might be translated and whether ‘control’ and ‘restraint’ would have equivalents in other languages, whether that subtlety exists. Of course it does, perhaps not with individual words, perhaps only with phrases and even sentences. It might mean that people have to talk faster and for longer to make their points, and I talk fast enough and long enough, and stretch most people’s patience as it is, but I sincerely hope that even without half-a-dozen words that all mean subtle variations of one thing, that all languages contain colour and texture and a breadth and depth of those things that allow nuanced understanding... How else would we communicate both so well and so badly?

So... Control and restraint.

I have few filters, particularly when it comes to thinking and moving freely from one thought or idea to the next, and I am happy to change my mind or even contradict myself without feeling that I have compromised my integrity. 

The same is true of talking. I do not hold back. I do not consider what I want to say or how I want to express myself before the words have left my mouth. It means that I am honest to a fault, and, even that I can be confrontational, some would say brutal, in my approach to discourse. It is never my intention to offend, but I am also incredibly free with my apologies, and happy to backtrack when I have overstepped a mark, or to be corrected when I err.

That is what I mean when I say that I have no restraint.

I wear my heart on my sleeve. If I become agitated or excited, if I am thrilled or appalled, you will read those expressions in my face, and my words will reflect those feelings. I am an open book. I do not measure my responses... at least not more than basic decorum requires that I measure them.

Control, on the other hand, I have in spades. 

I struggle not to share thoughts and words.

Actions are something else.

It seems to me that people with restraint are generally charmed and amused by people without restraint, just as soon as they realise that those people who have no restraint do at least have control.

I was in quite a large and merry group a little while ago. We were mostly writers and academics attending a party, and some of us decided to go on for late drinks afterwards.

There is no doubt in my mind that there were people in the party with restraint, but no control. Those people only ever lose control in private, and, when they do, they are their own private affairs, and good luck to them. 

Earlier in the evening I was confronted by a younger partygoer, who had neither restraint nor control. It was a tricky situation, and one that I tried, early on, to take control of. Sadly, this was the sort of person who lacked subtlety, as people who have neither restraint nor control often do. When one of the older men suggested late drinks, I tried again to lose the partygoer, saying that ‘the grown-ups’ were moving on. Somehow, this particular person managed to latch on to the group, and the die was cast.

A smart hotel bar is not the place to quaff other people’s rather expensive cocktails, or to stumble about breaking glasses or to try to snog almost anyone of either sex. It is most certainly the place to exercise a little restraint or a little control, or a little of each.

In the end another of our number, a businessman, who, if I had to guess, probably loses control spectacularly, and with consummate style in private, sacrificed himself and escorted the unfortunate creature off the premises, to all our relief. The rest was fixed with a very generous tip.

Restraint, I think, is more common than control, and I’m not going to judge which is of greater value, except to myself. Control has kept me sane, and a lack of restraint has kept me entertained, and, to some extent, has provided me with an education of sorts.

There are times when I wish I had exercised a little restraint, but, mostly, I find others immensely forgiving of what they consider my small foibles and minor eccentricities, and I thank them for it and hold them dear to my heart because of it.

I hope for those who maintain restraint in order to lose control, that it’s worth it to them, but I can’t help thinking they live more dangerous lives than I do. Frankly, I couldn’t bear all that excitement... and I’d be bound to end up feeling guilty about something.

I do hope that most of us manage one or the other, though, and I hope that the young and restless, especially our party-going acquaintance, settle their hearts and minds; they have nothing to prove, and when that lesson is learned there is fun to be had with people who genuinely want to enjoy their company rather than dread it.

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