(Note: This is a two part article. It will deal with what doesn’t define a gentleman and what does. You can’t really discuss one without the other. Also I took the risk of dealing with the topic of ladies, as after presenting the idea to Ms. B, she realized how the elements discussed applied to both Gentlemen and Ladies. You will notice how this post is full of links. These are the individual posts where I have expanded on the topic in previous posts.)
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
A fellow Gentleman over on our FB page dropped a gauntlet at my feet, a challenge which I have avoided without realizing it. Tired of the constant criticism against masculinity in social media and the ridiculous portrayal of men in traditional media, he felt it would be an interesting challenge to propose:
Top 10 honorable good traditional traits of a Gentleman
Honestly, I agree with his assessment of men’s depiction in modern media. We have been bombarded by the idea that the sarcastic Man-Child is an acceptable attitude to have, something I wrote about here. We are told by other guys that the only way to be a man is to be a player, idea that I challenge as well. On the other end, there is a general idea that men should be shamed into action to deal with the worse among us, strategy that has only created a feeling that being a man is something shameful. This resent attitude has gotten to the point where I have refused to write for some sites any more.
The reality is the net if full of articles like that. Really, it is. Go ahead and google “how to be a gentleman” or “10 traits all gentlemen have” or any other combinations of similar buzz words. Just get ready to sit down with a dozen of different versions of the “How to be a Gentleman to get the Lady” trope. Even on sites that proposed the idea that your actions “define you as a Gentleman, not her as a Lady” still fall on the Gentleman + Lady Stereotype we have avoided here, and reason why I have yet to put out a “How to Gentleman” post.
Ironically, for every social issue that men face, women face the flip side of the same coin. While men act like boys, girls act like women. Just as men are told how masculinity and being a Gentleman is something to be shamed out of them, women are attacked in a similar manner as femininity is viewed as weakness and the women are shamed out of the any intention of becoming a Lady.
A man’s interest of becoming a gentleman should never be dependent on a woman’s interest of becoming a Lady, nor the other way around. The reality is that a person’s interest into bettering themselves is not dependent on anything other than wanting to be one.
But before we can start to define what traits define a gentleman (or a lady for that manner) I think we should start by clearing the air of all the things that DON’T define a gentleman. There are way too many preconceptions carried by both words. Although this will be written from a gentleman’s perspective, understand that all of these apply to ladies as well.
Religious Denomination, Nationality, Race, or Ethnicity (or lack-off any of them)
This one is pretty simple, and can be inferred by this. Even though historically speaking, gentlemen had direct ties based on loyalty to their specific country, god, or king; almost every single country, society, and religion had their version of gentlemen (or similar archetypes) present. An English Gentleman is no more a gentleman than a Caballero. A Mensch is no more a Gentleman than a Junzi. You use your ideals and beliefs to define the kind of gentleman you are. Others do the same with different ideals and beliefs. No one ideal has the right to trump another. No one nation should be held with more pride than another. No one race or ethnicity should be viewed as better than another. In the global world we live in, understanding this is critical.
Whenever we think of gentlemen, you think of men in suits. I admit I have recommended the idea of the suit and the idea of being well groomed. Here’s the thing, wearing suit doesn’t make you any more of a Gentleman than a holding a weapon makes you into a warrior. Unfortunately, all too often people assume it does in both cases. The main idea isn’t the suit, but to respect yourself to care for yourself and how you present yourself to the world.
The reality is that if you don’t like to dress up, that doesn’t make you any less of a Gentleman. What makes you a Gentleman is how you refuse to make excuses for not dressing up. You understand and accept the reality that how you present yourself will define how others view you. You don’t need to justify who you are if you are proud of who you are. Consider that sometimes having a certain image is something that works for you and to what you do.
Way to often people assume that gentlemen are well off. How else are you going to afford all those suits, right? (Please read the Clothing entry again if you don’t get it.) I have dealt with well-off men who are Gentlemen. I have also dealt with well-off men who are anything but. The same I can say for men not as well off.
I have seen homeless men do acts of chivalry and hold themselves with honor and dignity, in spite of their situation. I have also seen rich men treat with more dignity and respect someone living in the street as someone living in a penthouse. I have seen the opposite on both situations as well. Your social standing neither makes you a villain nor a hero; neither makes you noble nor dishonorable. Who YOU are does.
All too often people think their past condemns their future. It does if you let it. The reality is you determine the man you are now, by the actions you take now. Sure, you might not have done the most honorable things in your youth, or lead the most saintly life. But as Oscar Wilde said, “all saints have a past and all sinners have a future.”
Never think you don’t deserve to be a gentleman just because of the guy you used to be. That’s actually the entire slogan of this site. Some of the most honorable men I have met started in the most dishonest lives.
Sexual Orientation (and maybe even gender?)
This has got to be one of my biggest pet peeves, as I’ve mentioned before. “Guys act like gentlemen to impress women.” What if the guy in question has no interest in the woman? Again, who he loves or doesn’t, who he dates or doesn’t, or who he marries or doesn’t, has no bearing in his actions as a Gentleman.
I will admit, my posts are written from a straight man’s perspective; I fully support equality of all kinds and will challenge any kind of bigotry and hatred. Take a moment and consider the following. If a gentleman is defined by his dedication to his character, if he is honest with himself and others, why would he hide who he is? Coming out to an unsupportive society and family takes a lot more cojones than most straight guys have.
And on the topic of cojones, I have met women who carry themselves with more gentlemanly dignity than a lot of the men out there, just as I have met men who carry themselves with more ladylike elegance than many women out there. Don’t assume you’re a gentleman or a lady just because of your genitals.
When everything is said and done, a gentleman can’t be defined by things he either has no control over, his environment, or simply the superficial shell around him. If that were so, only those born within a very unique situation could be gentlemen, and we know that’s not true. A gentleman can be anyone, just as long as he works on what truly matters, and what truly matters are all things he can control.
But that will be the next installment.