The following article was originally delivered as a speech back in 2004 during my time competing in high school speech and debate. It serves as Part One of our “When Lancelot Comes Riding” series.
Noblesse Oblige – with nobility comes obligation – a French term intended to convey that those who posses strength, intelligence or wealth are responsible to use such privileges to serve the common good.
It was out of this term that the concept of a gentleman sprang forth.
A gentleman was a man who took care to serve and protect those weaker than him – either physically, mentally, or financially – a man who showed respect and consideration for others both by courteous manners and good grooming.
It is for this man, or should I say, his modern day equivalent, that I am an advocate today. The gentleman has all but disappeared in our day, and it is high time we brought him back.
In my studies I have found the most neglected aspect of gentlemanly behavior is that of male interaction with the fair gender – in modern English: what it means to be a gentleman toward a lady.
Narrowing my subject to this aspect I will also focus, though to a lesser extent, on the responsibility of the ladies to respond to and encourage the proper behavior of the gentleman in their lives, and finally, on both the gentleman and the lady in their responsibility towards God in this area.
Is Chivalry Dead?
For decades gentlemanly behavior has experienced decline.
Not only are men becoming less apt to offer service, but ladies are much more likely to refuse it.
A man gives up when his assistance is consistently shunned and so does the poor lady left sitting in the car waiting for a gentleman to open the door.
In an attempt to remedy this sad situation I could, as many do, lay out the rules of basic etiquette, encompassing the obvious doors, chairs, boxes, bags, and other such practices.
Yet while all of these now uncommon courtesies are admirable they are merely signs that one is a gentleman or lady, not the means of becoming one.
And as such a mere review of the appropriate actions is unlikely to cause lasting change.
You see, gentlemanly behavior is an attitude of heart, not a set of rules. Once the proper mindset is attained opening doors, offering chairs, carrying baggage, and the like become merely the predictable consequences of the changed attitude, and become voluntary rather than compulsory.
The New Attitude
To begin, the change in attitude is this – and I am speaking now to the gentlemen – the change in attitude is simply a decision to put the ladies first; their needs and their comfort comes before yours. That is all there is to it.
Now the reason that this change in attitude causes such a huge revolution in someone’s actions is because this mindset is the motivation behind every gentlemanly action.
When you offer your chair to a standing lady you are putting her comfort before your own.
It is exactly the same with carrying baggage. Opening doors is putting them first by letting them go first.
Name any gentlemanly behavior and I guarantee you will find this mindset there in some shape or form.
When a man puts the needs and comfort of women ahead of his own he is well on his way to becoming a gentleman. In fact, he has already arrived and has only to allow consistency to establish his reputation.
Our Greatest Enemy
So, you might be asking, if it’s all so simple why don’t we all experience this wonderful transformation? If this is all it takes why don’t we see gentleman popping up like daisies all around us?
The answer, unfortunately, is that we all contain within ourselves a deeply entrenched root of self-centeredness. Self-centeredness is the antithesis of what makes a man a gentleman. And until it is overcome, consistency in gentlemanly behavior is impossible.
While self-centeredness might not cause you to consciously choose not to open a door, it will instead keep you from even noticing that the door needs to be opened!
Self-centeredness blinds you to the standing female and the woman burdened with her heavy boxes because if your mind is absorbed with how to make yourself more comfortable, how to satisfy your own needs, it cannot at the same time be focused on serving others.
So, while self-centeredness looks to serve yourself, a gentleman looks for opportunities to be helpful to others.
While self-centeredness attempts to avoid inconvenience, a gentleman is quick to deny himself and accept interruption of his own plans and interests.
He is willing to be “put out” and inconvenienced in order to serve others.
Our Primary Battleground
For many of us young men this attitude will mainly be seen in our interaction with our sisters and mothers.
They are not guinea pigs or practice dummies! They are the real deal, the main event.
Instead of viewing your mother and sisters as some vague exception to the status of ladies, consider them the primary battleground on which you conquer your self-centeredness and lay hold of the calling of a gentleman.
Nowhere else do your true colors wave so brightly, and nowhere else is your gentlemanly behavior more deserved or more commendable.
Brothers, serve your sisters. Sons, serve your mothers. Be quick to come to their aid, to offer them your chair, to open the door for them. Ask how you can help them and do it. Think sisters and mothers, then others.
My father once told me that the way I treat my sister and my mother now is the way I’ll treat my wife some day when I’m married.
Once the honeymoon is over and the glamour has worn off, the relationships my marriage will most closely resemble will be the ones I have now towards my sister and my mother.
If I really think that I can treat my mother and sister terribly now and then suddenly turn self-centeredness off and turn kindness on — and keep it on — once I get married, then I’m only fooling myself. And if you think that you can do the same your hope is equally false.
An Appeal To The Ladies
Now, I appeal to the ladies, and especially to my sisters in Christ.
If you don’t embrace your role as the recipient of our consideration we cannot act effectively as the gentlemen. You can show your care and serve your brothers by making it possible for us to become the kind of men God wants us to be.
Give us opportunities to do the right thing. We may need subtle hints such as, “Will you open the door for me please?”
You know we need to be reminded sometimes. And when you can see us trying, please encourage us and allow us to serve you.
If our actions are made from a servants-heart don’t take it as implying that we don’t think you can open the door or carry the box. You may not need our help, but we need to help.
Please don’t take your side of this process lightly, your response is just as important, as our initiative.
Unique And Critical Roles
Men and women have unique responsibilities. Both are necessary and both are sorely lacking in our society today.
We live in a society where chivalry has all but died, where the common man has become the common person, and any differences in gender roles are downplayed.
Yet among God’s people I will say that gentlemanly behavior should not be dead, that differences in roles are not discriminatory but complementary; conveying value and purpose for both man and woman.
“Among God’s people we understand that a man is to protect a women; to protect a women’s honor; to protect a woman’s heart; to protect a woman’s reputation; sometimes even to protect a woman’s health, her safety. Guys, that’s our job, God gave it to us. Woe unto the man who fails in that responsibility.”
Among God’s people we must understand that the woman is called to be supportive of godly manhood and her role is integral to the process by which men fulfill their responsibilities as men.
Gentlemanly behavior is a training ground of Christian character for both men and women.
Depending on each other’s actions we will either going to succeed or fail in fulfilling our responsibilities. We must refuse to treat this issue just like another lifestyle option!
In reality it is a requirement made for us by God – and by God’s grace we can succeed.
Just as with anything else worthwhile the fulfillment of our responsibility to be gentlemen comes at a price.
Girls, you may be inconvenienced at first as you allow the guys to get on their feet.
Guys, the price that you will have to pay will be your self-centeredness, your convenience, your comfort – in a thousand little ways – in order to put the ladies first, to ensure their convenience, their comfort, and God’s favor.
We are either part of the problem or part of the solution. By holding faithfully God’s plan for men and women, let us make this transformation.