“It isn’t that they live longer in Urizen. They just seem to live longer because everything is so damn peaceful that every minute seems to last an hour.”Calvedo, Freeborn Chronicler
The principle of Arete, the idea of excellence in all things is central to the Urizen way of life. The word means something close to "being the best you can be," or "reaching your highest human potential." It encompasses courage and strength in the face of adversity and represents a complete way of life in Urizen. Arete is frequently associated with bravery, but more often, with effectiveness. The man or woman of Arete is a person of the highest effectiveness; they use all their faculties: strength, bravery, wit, and deceptiveness, to achieve real results. Arete involves all of the abilities and potentialities available to humans.
Linked to Arete is the idea of Poise. The Urizen are wary of instinct and emotion, believing that people who allow their passions to move them rather than their higher minds are prone to acting irrationally and ineffectually. To allow ones self to be overwhelmed by emotions undermines the basic goals of Arete. “When one speaks angrily,” an old saying goes “only the anger is heard.”
Many Urizen actively disdain uncontrolled public expressions of emotion, and this gives them a reputation for being haughty, cold individuals. In truth they feel their emotions as deeply as any, but they strive to master their emotions and subordinate them to their rational spirit. The Urizen believe that you can draw great strength and impetus from powerful emotions but the emotions must be rigidly controlled for this to be usefully directed.
Rather than subdue or suppress their emotions, Poise is the practice of allowing yourself to feel your emotions as deeply as possible yet retain perfect self-control. Practitioners seek to hold themselves in a state of equilibrium so that they channel the strength of their emotions at the perfect moment. A common drill used to develop poise is the “deep breath” – a simple meditative technique where before undertaking any challenging activity the individual takes a breath and holds it while taking a moment to harness their emotions and decide how they will act. When the student breathes out, often explosively, they spring into action.
The Urizen embrace an image of the world they poetically call the Net of the Heavens. It is a metaphor that defines human interaction and history as being made up of “nodes” or “knots” – pivotal people and events that shape everything around them. For actions to be effective they must operate on these nodes, otherwise the effort is wasted. By influencing a powerful node, an individual can exert influence over events and individuals he has no personal connection to and produce results out of all proportion to the energy expended. Learning to possess Arete and Poise are seen as prerequisites for being able to reliably manipulate the Net of the Heavens.
Urizen tend to value their privacy, and be very aware of their personal space. Theirs is a mountainous Nation, but the Spires are built on a larger scale than most Imperial citizens would be familiar with. The citadels, towers, balconies and houses of Urizen often extend a short distance into the stone of the mountain itself, and these galleries are intended to be as airy and open as Urizen engineering can make them. As a consequence, some Urizen suffer from symptoms akin to mild claustrophobia.
This extends to their social lives as well – Urizen generally have a larger “personal space” than other people, and some become uncomfortable if they are pressed together with other people for long periods of time. Even married couples tend to maintain separate apartments, albeit with a shared communal area. Urizen bow to others as a mark of respect rather than shaking hands. A handshake is a greeting between close friends, while a hug or embrace is rare except among lovers, trusted confidants and close family members. Physical intimacies are always offered, rather than forced on someone.
Urizen food tends to be simple, but supplemented by a dazzling array of spices and sauces designed to make a limited palette of foodstuffs raised on the mountainsides more interesting. Most Urizen communities make an effort to attend a communal evening meal, characterised by lively discussion and debate, music and poetry. This expectation that the day will end in a communal mean helps to create a feeling of community and continuity for the Urizen people. Many Spires add additional traditions to cement the importance of this “community time.” A religious Spire may add prayers before and after the meal, while a martial Spire might use regular sparring to “work up an appetite for supper.”
Much of Urizen is hard to cross and physical messengers travel slowly. The Nation is united through the use of the Heliopticon –a series of polished bronze mirrors used to send messages across great distances to nearby Spires using a simple code of short and long flashes (morse code). To an outsider the Heliopticon is a technical marvel, but the Urizen appreciate that the true brilliance of the Heliopticon is the cipher of flashes used to send the messages rather than the method used to create them.
Artistic Urizen love poetry, but their work tends to follow strict structural rules. Urizen poets are expected to be technically excellent, and are applauded for their clever use of structure and meter. They also value sculpture and painting, again preferring a technically pleasing piece that appeals to the reason and is aesthetically pleasing.