Where have all the good men gone? Here’s a look at what it takes to be a gentleman.
I was recently sitting in a number of functions where I was watching an ad for a certain set of events that were being repeated several weeks in a row. Events tailored to women, it was pretty cool to see some great statements about a woman you would aspire to be (if you were a woman). She is brave. She is strong. She is confident. Lots of talk about courage. Lots of talk about beauty. In a similar vein, you may have seen what I’ve seen recently that a lot of those wordsmithy type posts that get reshared on social media talk exclusively about “she”. I dunno who she is, but she sounds pretty great. She’s never afraid. She took all the universe had to offer and left it wanting more. She was perfection itself even though she didn’t realize it.
And the more I’ve seen of those sort of things (which are all great by the way), I began to wonder something.
What about him?
You know. Him. The equivalent male. Is he strong, too? Is he brave? Is he worth giving a public mention to as well? I recognized that I haven’t actually been hearing as much about “him” lately.
When it comes to descriptions of men you endeavour to be, the description that comes to mind is being a gentleman. Three parts suave, four parts charming, seven parts handsome and ten parts all man, gunning it in a tailored suit and tie, subtle stubble, reading some sophisticated literature as he stares into the vista beyond his castle by the sea. I suppose chivalry is the other word that comes to mind, of which author Donna Lynn Hope said:
“Chivalry: It’s the little boy that kisses my hand, the young man who holds the door open for me, and the old man who tips his hat to me. None of it is a reflection of me, but a reflection of them.”
Sounds pretty good if you ask me.
Just what is a gentleman anyway? And does it even matter anymore? Here’s a look at some aspects of what it takes to be a gentleman.
Where are the good men?
A while ago I wrote a blog about the dreaded Man Drought. You know, the Man Drought. The apparent lack of good men in our world today. All the good ones being taken, not interested in women, or both. Or dead. Or in prison, one research group pointed out. Or out of reach because you’re with someone else you don’t feel fits the bill.
When I think “gentleman” I think the sort of man that meets the apparent criteria set out by the expectations of eligibility, and one who is an example to all those who know him. Parents who train their sons to respect women, animals, their peers and their property usually do so on the basis that it will make them a better husband, worker, student, or leader in the future. It’s what a gentleman does. He’s a man who commands respect without having to ask for it.
I guess a big part of the gentleman deal is really how you would define what a gentleman is. Different people would have different standards of what it takes to be a gentleman. There are even those who would argue it doesn’t even matter – they don’t need a man, nor do they want one. Or so they say. Or if you are a man, maybe you don’t think it’s actually something worth pursuing.
All of us have different definitions, priorities and considerations for what it means to be a good man. I think at the start of any conversation is to work out how exactly you define it. Maybe it’s not an availability problem so much as it may be a recognition problem. Or perhaps there is indeed a lapse in our discipline and expectations in raising men where “they just aren’t what they used to be”. Whatever it is, it starts with the accuracy and reality of our perception.
It’s in the name
The Beast of the titular fairy tale is confronted with the challenge of wooing the Beauty, Belle. He is told by his subjects that in order to win her heart, he needs to become a gentleman. In a thoughtful monologue, he looks to himself and asks, “How can I be a gentleman? A gentle…man. A gentle man.”
Well look at that, that’s exactly where the term derives from.
I think the word gentle is underrated. We give so much attention in movies, media and conversation to the excitement of the bad boy. Ruthless, unfeeling, cold with a hint of sadness. The one who lives on the edge, has little to no regard for anyone, does everything on his own terms, usurps and undermines whoever he needs to to get where he needs to be.
The only problem with the bad boy is that he might make a nice one night stand but he doesn’t usually make a good life partner, father, or friend.
An attitude of self-driven ambition and destructive behaviour really doesn’t leave a lot of room for anyone else to enter into your life. Or if they do, they usually leave it scarred.
A gentle man. Kindness should never be mistaken for weakness, and gentleness doesn’t mean he can never speak with boldness or strength, nor does it mean he can’t fight the good fight when confrontation is required to address a problem. But he’s not demeaning or disrespectful in the way he conducts himself.
Offers and invites, but doesn’t use force
On the topic of being gentle, I was thinking about something that people said of Jesus Christ as the perfect gentleman. That he never forces himself on anyone. He spells out the offer, he makes himself available, and it is in up to the subject to decide whether to accept or reject.
I think that’s certainly a massive challenge for men in our world today. Look at the increased percentages of sexual abuse, largely driven (although not exclusively) by the actions of men. And it’s not just towards women, but we’re also including abuse of other men. The very source of this behaviour is our response to a negative response, whether it’s warranted or unwarranted.
If you think it takes or demonstrates strength to “take what you want” or belittle others, then you should see how much true strength it takes to let it be. It requires a great deal of patience and security to continue on the path set before you.
Interestingly, one of the most marketable fantasies is that of subjugation and a man actually using force. Perhaps this is to break through indecision or a perceived lack of desire. But rarely does this behaviour actually sustain any sort of relationship – it’s usually the thing which destroys it.
Dealing with the recognition problem
If you talk to any man who’s taken a darker turn in his life, you can usually trace it back to him feeling like his efforts are not appreciated or worthwhile. I have seen so many of my male friends in life lose their way because of a perceived lack of recognition or value for who he is.
And sadly, there does exist a rather severe lack of recognition in our world. I’ve written a lot about the lack of recognition towards women before, but it needs to be said that there can certainly exist an equally destructive absence on the value of men. I remember even walking with a group of people including a respected woman to a bunch of us, and one of the guys held the door open for her. No joke – without even acknowledging this polite gesture was being done for her she blurted out in front of us, “I don’t know any gentlemen, it’s really hard for me sometimes”. Wait what? You said that in front of a bunch of men? Especially while someone was doing something nice for you? Needless to say none of us were too impressed that day.
At the heart of many men who have lost their way is simply a man who felt his strength wasn’t valued, his worth was questioned or ignored, or that it was acceptable behaviour that his ego was destroyed.
A remembered scene from the movie Ten Things I Hate About You was a confrontation in a car, where the male character echoes the sentiment of the destroyed heart of men everywhere – “Just because you’re beautiful, that doesn’t mean you can treat people like they don’t matter”.
It may be because of his traits of gentleness, consistency or lack of force that it is much easier to take advantage of a man who treats his world with respect.
Ah, but to be a true gentleman, my good sir, is to keep your character and integrity intact regardless of who acknowledges it or not. It’s to keep your behaviour on point in a world where inconsistency and hypocrisy reign. It is to go 70 times 7 when you have every excuse to destroy. I don’t think that means we allow ourselves to be walked all over and that you can’t stick up for yourself or ask for what you want. But it is to live with healthy boundaries and to maintain your sense of respect for others.
People will question your motives. Do it anyway. Keep your integrity. Continue to invest in others at any cost.
The cost of respect
When it comes to being a gentleman, the following metric is one near and dear to my heart:
It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
who conducts his affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn is exalted in honor.
In the midst of all the other definitions for what a gentleman really is, this one sticks far and away ahead in my mind. A picture of strength penned by the unknown Hebrew author of the 112th Psalm.
Throwing away excuses
I think an important final consideration on gentlemen is that we’re all on a journey. Not a finished product.
However, that should never become an excuse for poor behaviour.
Grace accepts as we are, but calls us to so much more.
Despite how we’ve been treated in life, what we’ve had to face, the things that have set us back – we are called ahead into something greater.
And when it comes to the issue of recognition, we shouldn’t let the faults of other men in the past be the reason we dismiss or belittle the other men in our lives. Because maybe the gentleman, or gentlemen, you’ve been desiring in your life have been in front of you the whole time. And all it takes is to call them by that name.
We can have every excuse, every reason to dismiss the value of being or honouring a man of respect. But to foster true gentlemen, this is what it takes.
How about you? How would you define a gentleman? What do you think it takes to be one?