Published on September 28th, 2006 | by Alex and Brett Harris
When Chivalry Is Inconvenient
My six-year-old brother James is a gift-giver. One of his favorite ways of showing love for his family is to break out his “treasure chest” and present each family member an assorted handful of sea shells, rocks, and airsoft pellets.
Each of these episodes is followed by a brief period in which everyone except James is trying to figure out where to store this new handful of treasure. Small sticky rocks may not be convenient to deal with, but we love the fact that James is trying his best to serve us.
But I Don’t Like Ice Water
Unfortunately, many ladies have had similar experiences at the hands of not-so-young, not-so-cute gentlemen. In other words, men with good intentions but a lack of discernment can inconvenience women even while trying to serve them.
One of our female readers compares this to receiving a sweater that is many sizes too big. You appreciate the motivation, but now you’ve got to deal with a useless pile of fabric.
Another reader asked this question, “Guys offer to get me ice water, but I don’t like ice water! I don’t want to discourage the gentlemen, but do I have to accept the offer even though it’s inconvenient?”
When You’re Handed Sticky Rocks
Ultimately, the answer to that question is ‘no’. Ladies should not feel obligated to accept inconvenient offers from gentlemen. However, they should feel obligated to build their brothers up as men even as they refuse an act of service. To help them do this I have two encouragements for the ladies:
First, be gracious with “young” gentlemen. The reason our family joyfully accepts handfuls of rocks from James is because we know that at his age it is more important that he cares to serve us, than that he actually serves us.
In the same way, be gracious with those of us who are just learning to be gentlemen. We may be in a stage of development where we are very sensitive to your response. Consider being inconvenienced for a time so that we won’t be discouraged from developing servant’s hearts.
Second, help the men in your life become more discerning. It’s not likely that James will still be giving out handfuls of sticky rocks when he’s twenty-five. Whether it happens by itself or through our input we expect him to become more thoughtful in the near future. So, though we accept it joyfully now, our ultimate goal is for his competence to match his good intentions.
You should have the same goal for the gentlemen in your life. Though you may put up with it for a season (see above), you don’t want us to remain clueless of how to actually serve you.
How To Say “No”
So, how can you help men become more discerning without discouraging us from being gentlemen? Well, I believe that there are three practical ways to direct but not demoralize the men in your life:
1.) Still communicate appreciation. Even a misguided offer deserves gratitude if the heart is in the right place. If you need to turn down an offer make sure you add, “But thank you so much for asking!”
2.) Explain why you are saying “No.” If all you say is, “No thanks, I’m fine,” men will most likely assume that you don’t welcome chivalry. The truth probably is that you just don’t welcome that specific offer — so tell us that!
If you don’t like ice water, feel free to say something like, “Thank you so much for asking, but I actually don’t like ice water.” This kind of response not only provides us with useful information for serving you in the future, but it also prevents us from feeling that the problem is our desire to help.
3.) If possible, provide an alternative. One of the best ways to help men become more discerning is to tell us what would actually serve you.
There are ladies in our church who are so good at doing this. I’ll ask them if I can carry something for them and they’ll respond by saying, “Thanks so much for asking! You know what, I’ve got this just fine, but there’s some heavy stuff still in the car that I’d love your help with.”
The result of this exchange is that I go trotting off to the car feeling manly and strong and she is actually being helped. Over time I have learned to ask if there’s anything else in the car I can carry before I offer to take something out of a lady’s hands. These wise ladies have successfully taught me to be more discerning.
It All Depends On Our Hearts
Of course, all of the “encouragements” and “practical steps” in the world can’t make women care about building their brothers up as men. And if a man’s only desire is to flirt and show off, all of the instruction in the world can’t make him care about actually serving women.
From the beginning we’ve seen that chivalry is a matter of the heart — not a list of rules or steps. This means that what we really need is a heart-changer; a savior. And that is what we have in Jesus Christ.
Read: Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five