What is a Gentleman?

10-27-2009-knight_chess_piece_j0177919We see Christianity’s timeless, powerful and wise influence upon the world of manners from one of my older etiquette book’s first chapter:
“What is a gentleman? The question is an old one. It cannot be ancestry, for often the son of the most noble and honored parentage is merely a coarse compound of clay and money…It cannot be dress–for surely Beau Brummell  (and today we could include famous well dressed entertainment and political personalities) was not what the world loves to call a gentleman, despite his stiffly starched cravats and brightly polished boots. It cannot be money, for then many a common thief, made wealthy by ill-gotten gains, would be entitled to the name of gentleman. No, it’s something that goes deeper than ancestry or dress or wealth–something that is nobler and finer than any, or all, of these….by faithful constancy to the rules (of  good manners)  he and we gradually mold our characters until, in our outward dignity and charm, the world reads and understands our ideals.”

The writer hits on an important truth: Our behavior, our manners, reflect what we really believe. Yes, what we value, our ideals,  shows up in our actions. The book further describes a gentleman as a strong man of good character, who displays self-control over impulses, values the worth of other individuals, is not easily offended, has respect and regard for the rights of others, observes and practices the art of good etiquette as a law of peaceful relations and civility.  Far from being a wimpy sissy, he stands firm for what’s right. He holds to high standards. The story is told about a meeting of army officers during the Civil War, when one of them began to relate a questionable story, remarking, as if to excuse his lack of good taste, that “there were no ladies present.” General Grant, who was acting as chairman of the meeting, remarked, “No, but there are gentlemen”-and he refused to allow the officer to continue the story. He obviously realized that “the company with bad manners (and stories) corrupts the good”.

I always admire gentlemen who stand tall and firm in what’s right. So does the world. Their protocol matters.

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