Much of the advice is obvious. A gentleman should be respectful and courteous but also strong. He should know the basics of proper grooming, dress, table manners, and behavior toward women. The essence of gentlemanly conduct is self-control, self-effacement, and ability to put others at their ease.
But not only has that ideal declined; even efforts to revive it sometimes become merely scolding or lessons in ineffectual niceness. Worse, modifications driven by political correctness aspire to make men more like women. Even most traditionalists dilute un-PC masculinity with safer exhortations to self-sacrifice, leaving men feeling more disposable than heroic. A gentleman must, tactfully, command respect as well as give it.
6 Social Graces Every Man Should Know
I will concentrate on less obvious graces that need some shoring-up. They are traditional ones, but reformulated slightly to meet today’s challenges:
Attire: Many men seem stuck in a state of arrested sartorial development. Obligatory informality has made them afraid to look too much like men. Overly informal attire is not only adolescent and, at worst, slovenly, it is also androgynous: it blurs the distinction between the sexes. This diminishes the distinctiveness of men, and most women do not like it either.
Chivalry: This means being the champion of not only women, but also principles like justice and truth and those who have suffered from injustice and untruth or anyone who is weak, disadvantaged, or oppressed. But it does not necessarily mean joining grand political causes and promoting abstract ideologies from the safety of a group. It means championing the cause of real individuals – right now, alone if necessary, at the risk of unpopularity or danger.
Tact: Being a gentleman does not mean you will never offend. If you have enemies, Winston Churchill supposedly said, “That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Sometimes a man cannot avoid angering people. At the risk of angering some people myself right now, I will suggest the specifically masculine quality of this principle. The essence of femininity is to inspire love. A man’s responsibilities include the risk of being hated. But you must never anger for frivolous or personal reasons. You must reserve this option for important matters. As Oscar Wilde remarked, “A gentleman never offends unintentionally.”
Honor: A gentleman must know how to handle attacks and insults, against both himself and others. If he follows the previous principles, he will receive his share. Constructive criticism should be taken in stride, but malicious criticism demands a response. This may no longer mean pistols at dawn, but neither does it mean running to tell teacher (or lawyers, judges, policepersons…) about every injury he considers “unfair.” He should be prepared to publicly defend himself, his family, friends, work associates, and any group or organization with which he associates (including his own sex).
Gallantry: A gentleman is required to honor and defend women at all times and sacrifice his safety and comfort for theirs. He is not required to acquiesce in every notion that enters the head of every woman; let alone is he required to act like one himself. Women have rules of conduct too and not carte blanche to change them at whim. For example, a man should never gaze at other women when he is in the company of one. By the same measure, if a woman insists on accompanying him in public looking like a prostitute, she is insulting him and others, and he is within his rights to refuse.
Piety: A gentleman respects others’ beliefs, even if he does not understand or agree with them, though he is not afraid to defend his own in the right context. He distinguishes convictions, which must be quietly enforced, from transitory opinions, which few wish to hear. In his church, he should strive to be a leader. He should know the Bible (preferably the Douay-Rheims or King James versions, with the thees and thous), and he should volunteer to read it aloud during the service and offer other assistance. He should also consider joining the vestry or parish council. If he joins lay groups like a men’s ministry, he should beware. Such groups sometimes define sin as acting too much like a man and redemption as being more like a woman. Likewise, he should support and encourage the clergy, though if a priest or pastor leaves off imparting the faith and starts preaching heresies or political ideologies, a gentleman is justified in quietly standing up and walking out.
Being a man always involves courage, but physical courage is not what is most lacking today. What makes a gentleman is moral courage, and that has become much rarer.
What is a gentleman, and why should every man aspire to be one? Does the ideal still have any value in the age of feminism, “toxic masculinity,” and “men going their own way”? Traditional books on manners and gentlemanly behavior have always claimed that manhood is defined by certain universal principles. But these norms have now changed so radically that the standard advice, tried and true as much of it remains, requires new formulation to be useful to the modern man.
Manhood is not something you’re born into it: it’s something that must be achieved and proven. Dr. Baskerville presents here the frankest guide to manners and morals ever written, offering you a refreshingly honest guidebook on how to become not just a man in the modern world but a gentleman.
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