A couple of housekeeping notes! You may have already noticed that I’ve put up a few photographs on my Flickr account (180 photos, to be precise!). They are as-yet unorganized, arranged by the date taken and nothing else. I intend to put descriptions on them…. eventually, but for now I’ve put them up in the hope that you can enjoy and reflect on some of the sites here in the Holy Land.
With regards to comments, I’d like to remind you that I do enjoy hearing from you! Its especially a nice touch from the homeland out here. If I don’t publish your comment, please don’t be offended. It may be that though it was not uncharitable or bad, but that I felt it more prudent not to have certain things up for anyone to read. You never know who might be reading. Rest assured that I do read your comments!
Finally, for the ladies who may read this blog, know that I will be writing (shortly, because I have finally! finished my last paper) something about the counterpart to chivalry. I highly recommend this post, not just because I wrote it but also because it may help you know what to expect in us men!
(Post-script: you may notice that I have put up a link to the USCCB vocation video “Fishers of Men”. I have, of course, received permission to do so, and invite everyone to watch it if you haven’t already – or watch it again if you have. Pray for vocations!)
One of my hobbies is to watch people. While walking in the mall, talking on the sidewalk, drinking frappucinos at Starbucks, it is always revealing to see how one person treats another. But the problem with people-watching in modern culture is that one is inevitably frustrated at the behavior of others.
Just a little while ago, I was at the post office here in Jerusalem. As I left with the friend I was accompanying, I overhead the strident voice of an angry young man.
Turning around, I saw him, probably between eighteen and twenty. The female clerk he was speaking to, in an increasingly loud voice, didn’t seem to understand English and certainly didn’t have the packing material he wanted. He began to talk down to her in a rude and sarcastic tone, speaking with insultingly exaggerated slow speech. Shortly he stomped off.
In seminary and simply in life, we learn that we have to overcome the initial shock that comes when our fellow man behaves poorly, but such exchanges never fail to anger me. Something wrong just occurred, and we men need to acknowledge and address the problem. We have forgotten what it is to be a good man, to be a gentle man.
The concept of a gentleman has been something that has captured my imagination and desire from the first time I picked up medieval stories. Reading many of the classic books – and many contemporary stories – the gentleman of a story stands out. We all are familiar, at least from the use of the word in movies, with what a gentleman is.
The fabled gentleman: the one who knows how to behave in every situation, has a impeccable manners (especially with regards to women) and has a working knowledge of many, if not all, the common and finer points of culture. He is a man who others respect instinctively while he simultaneously dignifying them simply by his presence of being towards them.
It seems to me that the gentleman is a dying breed.
You can find examples of gentlemen throughout the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood movies. ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner’, ‘Casablanca’, ‘Lillies of the Field’ to name a few of my favorites. And if you start looking at literature, well! You’ll be overwhelmed by gentlemen.
Gender: a natural sign of invisible realities.
Men and women are not the same. We are equal in dignity, but not in physical or emotional stature. There are obvious differences that need not be detailed. More than that are the natural, but differing strengths of men & women. Barring the exceptionally strong woman or the exceptionally weak man, men are stronger and bigger than women. Likewise barring the exceptionally sensitive man or the exceptionally apathetic woman, women are more nurturing and intuitive than men.
There is more to it, of course, but these are generally agreed-upon facets of the genders.
Power, strength, physical ability, these are things that also beget responsibility. In line with my love of superheroes (the arch-type of many American ideals being Superman), I would quote Ben Parker: “With great power comes great responsibility. Remember that. . . .” Women are (generally) physically weaker than men, and so we have a duty to safeguard them. And more than that, women are the tabernacles of humanity, bringing life into the world through their actions and their very bodies. No man can do this, but it is every man’s job to honor and protect that potential in women. It does not matter that a woman is barren or that she is celibate; she is worthy of respect and care by virtue of her extraordinary grace of motherhood – physical or spiritual. It is part of every woman’s nature.
There have been travesties that have come out of misguided ideas of chivalry, but the best definition of chivalry is the duty of a man to honor God, serve his country and respect & protect his fellow man, most especially women.
Equal in dignity, yet in varied (but complementary) ways
Whenever anyone mentions differences in men and women, the question of ‘equality’ comes to the fore. Before you can say ‘boo’, accusations of chauvinism and feminism are thrown out. I’d like to clarify myself before going too much further. Men and women are equal in their dignity as human beings, both genders having been created in the image of God. Anyone who denies this, in part or entirely, is guilty of a most serious fault in charity (as well as good theology).
But we can not simply say that men and women are equal. Equality is a mathematical term. The number two equals one plus one (2 = 1 + 1). The sum on both sides is exactly the same. Men and women are not numbers, and they are not exactly the same. Its a mistake to say that two different people are the same, much moreso to say that the two different genders (which encompass every individual person in the world) are the same. Just as each person has strengths and weakness proper to his person, so each gender (generally) has strengths and weakness proper to it.
If you think that I am somehow saying that women are lesser than men (or vice versa), please re-read this section. The point here is to simply recognize that men and women are not equal in the precise meaning of the word. If we can’t recognize the differences in each other, we won’t be able to go any further in understanding how we are to behave in the roles that these difference place us.
Rising to the challenge of true manhood
In the USCCB’s new vocation video<, a priest made a remark that resonated with me and I suspect would do so with anyone:
“I think young people want the challenge of being pulled to something more than just mediocrity. All young people, I think, have that deep desire to do something remarkable – to be someone remarkable.”
Does that sound familiar to anyone? It is a powerful true-ism, despite remaining unarticulated within most of us. In the case of masculine dignity, I would say that every young boy, every man, wants to be a gentleman – or starts out wanting to be a gentlemen.
Maybe that sounds strange – but consider the opposite: how many men want to become rude and offensive slobs? Hopefully none, but certainly very few. The rest of us become that way because we become lazy or because we discover that the work of being a gentleman is difficult. Not too difficult, but it takes a conscious and sometimes significant effort.
Human pottery 101: the formation of a gentleman
In today’s world it seems like the idea of a gentleman has been replaced with the suave, debonair and sophisticated person of James Bond (well, James Bond until Pierce Brosnan left…). And while the idea of James Bond encapsulates some of the things that make up a gentleman, he is lacking in the two greatest qualities of what it is to be a gentle man: humility and respect of others.
The simple and short answer is that mankind was created in the image of God. Simply put, to act in any manner that is opposed to our nature – the reflection of God – damages the dignity that we carry in what we are.
In fact, the dignity of mankind doesn’t stop with ourselves. Despite any solitude of our lives and actions, everything we do has an effect on those around us. And our absence, too, can affect others. If absence can affect others indirectly, and actions directly, how much can consciously good actions positively affect others?
What is a Gentleman?
Among the many qualities that come together to form a complete gentleman, there are a few that strike me as being at the core of the matter: demeanor, behavior and culture.
The first things that shouts ‘gentleman’ is the way that he carries himself. His movements convey both confidence, humility and respect. He stands up straight, shakes your hand firmly while looking you in the eye and gently smiles while inviting you to tell him a bit about you. In the way that he carries himself, he conveys to the world that he is a gentleman while simultaneously looking to selfless be with others. He respects himself enough to stand proud, but his attention is devoted to attending to those around him.
The second indicator is how a man comports himself in the company of others. In short, he looks to preserve the dignity and comfort of those around him. Gossip, uncharitable words, impolite conversation and even topics that are unpleasant (or controversial) are taboo in his presence, save perhaps in private conversations when the person for whom those words are necessary won’t be embarrassed in front of others. And a gentlemen never allows or purposely directs the conversation to settle on himself. He speaks and acts so as to preserve and enhance the dignity of those around him.
The gentleman has allowed himself to be formed and disciplined in the world. He is well-read and generally familiar with the goods of the world – though neither disdainful nor enslaved by them. I have heard it said of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (although I have no reliable source or quote) that he recommended each priest to be familiar with the finer things of life – cigars, beverages, for example – while not being enslaved to them. This wasn’t so that the priest could enjoy the comforts of these things, but that a priest could approach any person in his or her own environment. Despite being independent of the things of the world, such a gentleman could relate to a person at any context.
Finally, the gentleman has a unswerving sense of right and wrong, of justice in the world. When the rights of another are being trampled upon, the gentleman stands up for them, especially when the other is unable to do so alone. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. But when even one person challenges injustice, others are inspired to do the same.
You could spend your entire life searching for the best way to be a gentleman and never achieve it fully. But it would be a life well spent. The starting point of chivalry is the ability to say two simple phrases: “You’re right” and “I’m sorry”. Beyond just saying them, we need to be able to both mean them and act on them. Acknowledging the dignity of others, especially when they in the right, and humbly admitting our own faults is a sure path to holiness.
Being a gentleman is not an easy goal to achieve in today’s society. The strangest of contradictions center around how modern society thinks men should behave. You may find even priests who behave like cads and the stoutest of atheists behaving like gentlemen. But it is the example of Christ that teaches us that there is a right way to live, and the life of a gentleman has no better guide than our Lord.