Monday, April 7, 2008

On being a gentleman

We very rarely hear talk about what it is to be a gentleman these days. But that does not mean that gentlemen no longer exist, or that there is no longer any need to be one. In my definition, being a gentleman is simply being gentle and being a man. Or perhaps I should say it is being gentle but being a man, because often people confuse gentleness with weakness. A gentleman is gentle because it is right, not because he is weak. This is what others have to say:

We are gentlemen that neither in our hearts nor outward eyes envy the great, nor shall the low despise. Shakespeare

There is no such thing as being a gentleman at important moments; it is at unimportant moments that a man is a gentleman. At important moments he ought to be something better. G.K.Chesterton

A gentleman is one who understands and shows every mark of deference to the claims of self-love in others, and exacts it in return from them. William Hazlitt

A gentleman understands what is moral; a base man understands what is advantageous or profitable. Confucius

This is the final test of a gentleman: his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him. William Lyon Phelps

A gentleman is like the Pole star that stays in place while all the other stars pay homage to it. Confucius

Like the eclipses of the sun and moon, the mistakes of a great man are clear to everyone. But when he corrects them, all men will hold him in higher reverence. Confucius

Never cheat, but do not be soft. It is a hard world. Be harder. But, and this is the test, at the same time, obviously, be a good fellow. Gerald Sparrow

A man has to live with himself; so he should see to it that he is always good company. Mencius

If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him. Oscar Wilde


Dave Oaks said...

I read all your posts on this subject, and it's a topic I have a deep interest in, as I was always taught that this was something to aspire to.

A few of the quotes you have mention the behavior of great men. But while some great men were gentlemen, I would argue that few gentlemen were great men. Gentleness and great accomplishment rarely go hand in hand.

Along the same vein, a certain moral righteousness is associated with the term of gentleman. But I've come to meet many men, especially in my time in the military who are "good" men, living by their own spartan code, but could not be called "gentlemen" in the most liberal interpretation of the term.

I associate the term now mostly as a white collar social affectation. It may be a sign of "good breeding", but not the standard by which I judge myself or others. Personally I've always admired Kipling's view on manhood as expressed in "If". But that's just my 2 cents.

Alex said...

Thanks for the comment! See my reply in this post.

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond