Note: This is the second part of a two part article. The first one, here, dealt with what doesn’t define a Gentleman. Although each work independent of each other, it might be a good idea to read part one first. Again, the traits discussed define not only Gentlemen, but Ladies as well.
There are complete men and incomplete men. If you would be a complete man, put all of your soul's strength into all of your life's actions.
Eugenio Maria de Hostos
When I was asked about doing this post, I will admit, I was apprehensive. My initial thoughts were that each gentleman is different; each has their own way of carrying themselves. If you then add the cultural background each might have, the social standing, or even the educational level they might have; there are more things that make them different than those that make them similar.
But if that is so, how is it possible to consider someone a gentleman within a few seconds of meeting them? The reality is that what makes gentlemen different is simply their shell, the superficial differences. It’s what lies beneath the surface, the core of the man which unites them all under a single banner, the banner of gentlemen.
So, that being said, what are these core characteristics that make a gentleman, well, a gentleman? I have already dealt with two posts focusing on the virtues and values that define a gentleman, so this post will focus more on the traits. With that in mind, let’s get started.
Desire to be better
Everything starts with a simple idea, the idea that you can be a better man than you were before. Yet, all too often I have seen how people confuse wanting to be more with thinking you’re not good enough. Wanting to be more is simply that, wanting to be more. No matter how good you are, you can always strive to be better, to push yourself past your own expectations.
This attitude isn’t limited to your selected hobby or to a certain age. A gentleman strives to be better than what he was yesterday, every day. He is constantly pushing himself and challenging himself. Every action he takes is an opportunity to go beyond what he thought was his best yet.
The only way to be more and expect more from yourself is by having the discipline to actually pull it off. Discipline, and discipline alone, is what sets the stage of every achievement that defines a gentleman. Without it, all you have is a onetime thing, wishful thinking, and aimless wanderings. Discipline is what keeps you from faltering in your ways. Think of it this way. Passion is what makes you take action while discipline is what keeps you doing it in a regular manner, long after the mood is gone. It’s your ability to say no to your selfishness and to force yourself to say yes when you don’t want to.
There is a reason why so many gentlemen warriors come from martial backgrounds. In both the case of military men and martial artists, discipline is the core frame over what everything else is built.
As you develop your discipline, you will develop a sense of respect. You understand that everything is a struggle to keep in check and that this struggle is different for every person. You begin to respect yourself for your own discipline and respect for others as they challenge their own lives and their own challenges. You learn to respect others, even if you don’t agree with them.
Especially if you don’t agree with them.
Some people say that respect is earned. A gentleman understands that respect isn’t earned, but rather lost. And even when lost, he still will treat the other person with respect. He does so, because his actions speak of himself and not of the other person.
A gentleman will set the boundaries required to be treated with respect based on the same boundaries he sets on himself to respect others. This is a trait not everyone sees when dealing with a Gentleman as they only tend to see how a gentleman treats others. A gentleman expects so much of himself because it’s his way of showing himself respect.
Man of Action
This kind of respect is demonstrated by actions. A gentleman knows that intention is nothing without the appropriate action to back it up. Wishing something to happen means nothing within the grand scheme of life. The actions taken for these things to happen are what define how much you want something, your true desire. Your actions are what define your intentions, your desires, and your ideals.
What are you willing to do to achieve what you want in life?
But these actions come with a responsibility. A gentleman understands that everything is an action and all these actions have consequences. Do understand that actions are not just doing something. Not doing something is an action as well, as it also carries consequences.
A gentleman has to assume the responsibility of actions taken, be these consequences good or bad. Accepting this responsibility results in a more responsible attitude towards every action he takes. This leads to a life of honesty, temperance, and self-control as a result.
Sense of Justice
And as you now understand how each action leads to a consequence, you realize your responsibility within the scheme of things. You realize you can be as much a solution to the problems of the world or become part of the problem.
This one is not as simple as it reads. I am not talking about taking up vigilantism. What I am talking about is an understanding of what is just in the world, how you can help others. As you become aware of how much good you can do, you realize the importance of doing this good. We must stand up for what is right, for those that can’t stand for themselves. This sense of justice guides us to be charitable with those who have less or simply need help.
The big challenge here is doing this for those we don’t agree with. It can’t be a selective attitude to do it just when it's convenient for us or only when we are confortable at the moment. It can’t be dependent on how others treat us. When we nitpick when we believe in justice and when we don’t, it stops being about justice. We are just looking for excuses to commit socially acceptable abuse.
The down side of this sense of justice is the overwhelming realization of just how much bad there is out there. When you take the mantle of challenging evil, you sometimes see evil everywhere you go.
The only way to counter this is to learn to see good, to see beauty. For that you have to develop your sensibility. Sensibility is your ability to appreciate the emotional aspect of life. It’s your ability to appreciate beauty in a grim world. You might think this to be a trivial thing. Yet in a world that won’t think twice about choking the life out of your soul, the ability to find hope and appreciate the little things becomes a survival tool.
Sensibility is something that can be learned and trained, just as some people train themselves to live in negativity. By forcing us to look at the beauty within everything, to appreciate and to be thankful of its presence, we train our mind to look for it every day in everything.
As you become more aware of the world, you realize just how big a world it is. You grow past the pettiness and small mindedness that limits so many people who prefer a tiny bubble of a life, people who only think of themselves. Gentlemen have burst that bubble a long time ago.
They know that the world is a big place with all kinds of people, ideals, places, foods, experiences. It’s not about diving in, head first, into this vast world (although it helps), but about understanding, learning, and expanding your horizons.
Acceptance Of Something Greater Than Yourself
As they realize the grandness of the world, a gentleman develops a sense of humility about himself. This isn’t because he thinks of himself any less, but because he has learned to appreciate things greater than himself. He understands that his role in life is to serve these greater ideals and purposes.
Some define these greater ideals as their religious faith. Others take on a social ideology. Still others go to a more immediate scale as they use their community or simply their family as that totem of strength.
When you take on that life of service, you learn not only humility, but graciousness. You don’t develop an attitude of expecting others to serve you or follow you. Your actions are done because of a moral obligation and not because you expect any payment whatsoever.
Attitude of Confidence
It’s this mix of discipline, selflessness, strength, sensibility, worldliness and humility that give the gentleman his most distinguishing trait; his confidence.
When I mention confidence, I am not talking about daring to go out and meet people, or speaking in front of a crowd. What I AM talking about is believing in yourself enough to take action. It’s believing that your actions mean something to someone else. It’s understanding how you can make a difference to someone’s life, even if that life is your own.
Confidence isn’t about ignoring what others think, but understanding how believing in yourself and trusting yourself is more important than what others think. This translates into an attitude of unstoppability so common among any gentleman who has a mission in mind.
There are plenty of other traits and characteristics that can be used to define a Gentleman. Many of them are actually a result of a larger quality. For example, Honesty is a direct result of accountability and temperance is a result of discipline. Sure, all gentlemen are different, but the characteristics that make a good man, those are pretty much standard for anyone. If there is a standard to what a good man is, doing anything less means you can’t really complain when you aren’t viewed as one.