On Being a Modern Gentleman:
Guideline 3: Be Chivalrous
Chivalry is dying. It flails about, gasping for its last breath, unsure–in its last days–if it is an outmoded Medieval concept regarding military bearing and honor or a system of ethics concerned with charity, generosity, and morality. While I’m interested in the first, the Code of Chivalry, a Medieval system born of the French chevalerie, I’m not advocating that anyone pick up their lance and begin writing sonnets to their chaste love interests. I can’t even say that I’m interested in gallantry, an Early Modern period attempt to revive chivalry and inoculate it with emerging Renaissance ideals, really.
It’s 2014, and the world has changed. The ideals of our forebears are, for the most part, inapplicable. I would charge you, readers, to become chivalrous in a different sense. Put others first. Do first what is good for others before you seek to gain for yourself.
Kenelm Digby argued in 1822 that “chivalry is only a name for that general spirit or state of mind which disposes men to heroic actions, and keeps them conversant with all that is beautiful and sublime in the intellectual and moral world.”
While Digby’s work was pedantic and an idealistic portrait of the Medieval era (don’t bother reading it), the above statement still rings true and, I believe, is particularly relevant to today. I charge you to develop a state of mind which leads you to heroic actions, even if those actions are small and trivial (e.g., opening a door for someone, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or giving a kind word to a stranger) and to be more aware of all that is beautiful, astounding, and inspiring in the world. It can’t hurt, and you may find that you like it.