On Being a Modern Gentleman Wrap-Up

Yesterday, we wrapped up “On Being a Modern Gentleman” and concluded 2014’s A to Z Challenge. For ease of access, here are links to each entry:

Be Amiable

Read Books

Be Chivalrous

Be Determined

Be Empathetic

Conquer a Fear

Groom

Be Handy

Use Your Imagination

Join a Club

Use Your Knowledge

Write Letters

Make Something

Nurture Something

Be an Orator

Be Pragmatic

Be Quotable

Be a Renaissance Man

Live Simply

Be on Time

Use the Phone

Visit

Write Daily

Be Xenodochial

Bear Yoke Your Admirably

Zen

I hope you all enjoyed this month’s theme, and I hope you each got something out of it. The world could use more gentlemen.

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Zen

On Being a Modern Gentleman:

Guideline 26: Zen

This is the final post of the A to Z Challenge, and the conclusion of this month’s special: On Being a Modern Gentleman. I hope you all have enjoyed it.

Today’s post concerns a philosophy many in the US find interesting but few can describe: Zen. At its heart, Zen is a school or sect of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in China and spread throughout Asia. Strongly influenced by Chinese Taoism, Zen would root itself in Japan.

Rather than teach you about Zen, here are some Zen and Taoist proverbs which seem to capture the philosophy:

1. There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “May be,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “May be,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “May be,” said the farmer.

2. A priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. He had been given the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple there was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen master. One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden. He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss, and spent a long time meticulously raking up and carefully arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.

When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. “Isn’t it beautiful,” he called out to the old master. “Yes,” replied the old man, “but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I’ll put it right for you.”

After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden. “There,” said the old man, “you can put me back now.”

My last suggestion to you is to study these two proverbs, find the lesson in each, and try to live by them. These lessons, combined with the other guidelines presented this month, will go a long way towards ensuring that you are a modern gentleman. And that’s something we all should strive for, right?

Thanks for reading, folks.

Bear Your Yoke Admirably

On Being a Modern Gentleman:

Guideline 25: Bear Your Yoke Admirably

Everyone has their share of issues, even the modern gentleman. The difference between the gentleman and the ne’er-do-well lies in how they deal with their burden.

We all have problems, and we each face trials. That’s just how it goes. Instead of moping about and bemoaning your state to your friends and family, bear your yoke admirably. In regards to trials, there are three types of people in the world: those who deal, those who blame, and those who whine.

While you should be capable of expressing your needs and emotions to others, you should be equally capable of dealing with trials yourself without burdening others. No one needs any more Eeyore’s in their life. Don’t whine about your problems to others, as they have their own and shouldn’t find themselves yoked to yours.

Likewise, no one needs any more Rabbit’s. (He was the most accessible character I could think of that often blamed others.) Sometimes, there really isn’t anyone to blame for problems. Most of the time, the person to blame is yourself. Don’t attempt to share or pass guilt onto others. That isn’t the gentlemanly thing to do.

I keep thinking of an older fellow in my community–a true gentleman. In my years of knowing him, I’ve never seen him complain or fail to smile at others. No matter how ill or  burdened, he unfailingly responds to questions of “How are you?” with “Well, I’m doing so much better than I deserve. I’m great,” smile upon his face. Aspire to this. By all means, share your burdens with close friends and trusted family members. But, please, don’t broadcast them to the world. If you must be yoked to weighty trials, shoulder it, and bear it well.

 

Be Xenodochial

On Being a Modern Gentleman:

Guideline 24: Be Xenodochial

I really had to pore through the ole’ memory in order to find a suitable word. Xenial would work, but several bloggers had intentions to use the same, so I chose a close synonym.

The modern gentleman should be xenodochial, or friendly and receptive to strangers. Xenodochial, from xenodochy, comes from the Greek ξενοδοχή (xenodochē), meaning “stranger’s banquet.” The modern gentleman, amiable and empathetic towards friends, neighbors, and family should also endeavor to be friendly and receptive towards strangers. To paraphrase the Greek, your presence should be a filling banquet for the unfamiliar and not yet introduced.

For most, it’s easy to be friendly to people you know and see frequently. Few have mastered being compassionate and friendly towards strangers; well, some have the “theory” mastered but not the “practice.”

This is an easy task. Smile. Say hello. Give a stranger the “nod”–southerners will understand the gesture. If you feel courageous, engage in conversation with someone on the metro or in the checkout line at the grocery store. My suggestion for you would be to put the phone away and be aware of others. Opportunities to meet and converse with others arise daily, and you shouldn’t miss them just to play a new word in Words with Friends or to stare at Facebook waiting for updated statuses.

Write Daily

On Being a Modern Gentleman:

Guideline 23: Write Daily

Ironically, today’s A to Z Challenge posting is a little late. “W” was supposed to be posted on Saturday, but amidst wedding showers and family get-togethers, I was unable to get to the computer.

So, do as I say, not as a I do, right?

The modern gentleman, a person of letters and books, who journals daily, is obviously a writer. Hone that skill. I had a college professor who proclaimed that writing was most like physical activity and exercise. Without exercise, you wouldn’t expect a great time on the 400m or large pectorals. Without exercise, you shouldn’t expect your writing to be worthwhile.

Your challenge, as a modern gentleman, is to write daily. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, but make sure to write approximately 300 words a day. If you can’t manage 300 words a day, perhaps you should reevaluate your desire to be a writer… Don’t worry about editing. You’re only exercising right now, not participating in a triathlon.

Go flex those writing muscles.

Visit

On Being a Modern Gentleman:

Guideline 22: Visit (with friends and neighbors)

Yesterday, I wrote that a gentleman should use the phone for actual conversations, in order to develop stronger relationships and to develop better communication skills. Today, I want you to put the phone away and go see someone.

I was talking with a friend yesterday, and he and I became nostalgic. He told me that he had recently had a conversation with a student and had explained that “back in the day” before cells and email if someone didn’t answer their landline, you would go to their house if you needed them. The student was incredulous. My friend explained to the kid that he used to bike 10-12 miles to certain friends’ houses just to see if they were there. More incredulity followed.

My point? It seems like convenience rules society. Personal relationships aren’t formed with others (at least, not as strongly) due to over-reliance on impersonal, digital means of communication. How many times in the past few weeks have you gone over to a friend’s house or a neighbor’s just to chat and say hi? I don’t believe I need to expound upon the benefits of face-to-face communication; you all are smart. Instead, I want to exhort you: go visit with others. Take time to develop strong, personal relationships with those around you, and please, don’t conduct all of your friendships and business with others digitally. Face-to-face communication shouldn’t become an anachronism.

Use the Phone

On Being a Modern Gentleman:

Guideline 21: Use the Phone

Phone calls are becoming increasingly rare among younger generations. Impersonal texts, emails, and Snapchats have become the norm for communication, and I can’t help but feel like something is being lost.

Sure, texting is great, as is email. I do both throughout the day. That being said, if I have something important to communicate, I call the person. It just makes sense. And, a brief two-minute conversation is a much more efficient use of time than texting the same conversation over a two-hour period. (Also, why pay hundreds for a phone if you don’t actually use the phone function?)

1. A phone will teach communication skills.

A large part of communication is nonverbal communication and body language. Scientists disagree as to how large a part body language plays in communication, but some, like researcher James Borg, argue that up to 93% of communication is nonverbal. A phone conversation, divorced from body language, helps you to develop diction, persuasiveness, and will help you to be both precise and concise.

2. A phone will teach empathy.

A phone conversation has a receiver and sender, and being divorced from body language on the receiving end will help you to develop empathy. Unable to see facial expressions and body cues, you really have to consider how something is being said and how the speaker may be feeling.

3. A phone will teach confidence.

In the past, using the phone was a time-honored rite of passage. Countless boys became men calling cute girls on landlines, fearing that fathers would pick up first. If picking up the phone to call someone gives you sweaty palms, you need to make more calls. Frequent calls will turn a dreaded chore into a commonplace activity. There’s nothing to it.

Your challenge this month is to call someone daily–even if it’s just your mother. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.

Be on Time

On Being a Modern Gentleman: 

Guideline 20: Be on Time

The modern gentleman should be punctual. Being late shows carelessness and callousness towards others. Whether conscious or unconscious, being late communicates to others that you feel your time is more important than their own. This is not a gentlemanly attitude.

Being punctual will improve your confidence, your relationships with others, and may improve your standing at your workplace. It will also demonstrate that you are humble, dependable, respectful, and considerate of others.

Why not be punctual? There are no benefits to being late, and being on time or early takes no more effort. Lord Horatio Nelson once said: “I have always been a quarter of an hour before my time, and it has made a man of me.” You should endeavor to do the same.

Do not waste the time of others. Your time is no more precious than theirs. English novelist Arnold Bennett agreed:

It has been said that time is money. That proverb understates the case. Time is a great deal more than money. If you have time you can obtain money—usually. But though you have the wealth of a cloak-room attendant at the Carlton Hotel, you cannot buy yourself a minute more time than I have, or the cat by the fire has.

Being punctual is the easiest guideline of the month. Just do it.

Live Simply

On Being a Modern Gentleman:

Guideline 19: Live Simply

The modern gentleman, unlike forebears, is an individual that chooses simplicity over materialism. Investing his or her time in personal development, the modern gentleman has no time for a life filled with possessions and distractions.

Of all the guidelines listed during this challenge, simplicity is my greatest struggle. I like things. I appreciate fine clothing, books, furniture, and knick-knacks of various sorts. The only way I’ve been able to combat this is by living by the motto quality before quantity. Rather than accumulate lots of possessions, I’ve tried to look for quality goods that will last a lifetime, or at least close to one. For example, rather than buy shoes that would need to be replaced after a year or two, I buy quality shoes that will last many years and then can be resoled to last for many more.

While I can’t really lead by example, I understand the principle well enough to present some suggestions for living a simple life.

1. Declutter – Sort through all your possessions and get rid of any that haven’t been used/worn in over a year. (Many people say six months, but I feel like a year is a little more realistic.) Reducing clutter in your house will reduce stress, save you time, and give you a fresh start on life. When I do declutter, I feel like I’ve taken a fresh lease on life.

2. Reduce Distraction – Most people have a lot of unnecessary distractions in their lives. Surrounded by smart phones, easily accessible internet distractions, television, and near-constant contact with both friends and strangers, it’s difficult to concentrate on a task or on the things that matter. While all of the above are useful and enjoyable, try not to let them usurp the important things in your life. Take time each day to cut out all distractions and focus on yourself, your friends or family, or your work.

3. Cut Ties – We all have a lot of unnecessary relationships in our lives as well. While it may seem harsh, cut ties with people that don’t benefit you. Reducing the amount of people you interact and associate with will allow you to develop stronger relationships with the people that remain. You don’t need 800 Facebook friends, and you don’t need to hang out with a different social circle every night of the week.

Be a Renaissance Man

On Being a Modern Gentleman:

Guideline 18: Be a Renaissance Man

The modern gentleman, a reader and an orator, should strive also to be a renaissance man. A renaissance man, or a polymath, is a person whose knowledge or expertise spans a number of areas. Polymaths often have a deep understanding of literature, history, art, religion, science, and hands-on subjects like engineering or construction. Most of the greats, e.g., Ben Franklin, da Vinci, Francis Bacon, were polymaths.

Having interests in many fields helps to make you a more interesting conversationalist, a stronger orator, more attractive to potential love interests, and, let’s not forget, more knowledgeable–which is a worthy goal in and of itself. There are a variety of ways to approach this: take classes; visit museums; read; join a club; hell, watch the Science Channel or other learning channels. I heartily endorse EdX, a collection of free online courses offered through MIT, Harvard, and other partner schools. I recently completed a few courses in history and science and was really impressed.

Become a polymath this April, at the very least, you’ll be a hit during trivia games.