I find it often times easier to begin defining a difficult idea by clearing up what it is not. So in that tradition, I’d like to begin by speaking on what a gentleman is not.
He is not afraid to fail, nor is he perfect. To expect one to ever achieve “perfect manners” is to expect too much. This isn’t religion; the burdens placed upon the gentleman are ones such as all men are capable of achieving. Failure is part of the human condition. To expect more is to invalidate ones point of view from the start.
He is not timid in his beliefs. This is quite a large topic, but I’m going to do my best to encapsulate it. On the one hand we have the realization that many topics just arn’t prudent to bring up in mixed company without provocation. So unless Uncle Jim brings up how Obama is going to kill your grandmother, it isn’t gentlemanly to bring up how his views are provincial and false. This much is common sense I should hope: Don’t be contentious without cause. However, a gentleman is not required to bite his tongue when vile nonsense is espoused in his presence. There are infinite circumstances where he may choose to wait until he is alone with said person, or simply stay silent. But the main point is that if someone begins talking about the President as a nigger, or how non-believers will roast in hell, or how Republicans are Nazis (or interchange as you please), then the gentleman is in many senses not simply allowed to rebut such speech, but is in many senses required.
This idea is new, I feel, when regarding “gentleman” and their actions. But it is not harmonious with the overall ideals of a gentleman that such vile, bigoted and frankly harmful speech should go unanswered. This isn’t to say that a gentleman should advocate for the banning of such stupidity. Quite the opposite, a gentleman should defend the lawful free speech of every individual he encounters, even if that speech is stupid and banal. But as a citizen, and as a gentleman who supports those lofty and upright ideals that have formed our democracy, a gentleman should feel free and emboldened to challenge it. As much as a gentleman would council a friend to defend another innocent friend, so too should he feel free to not let pure drivel slide in his presence. Both of these situations being the natural consequence of his beliefs.
This however does not allow a gentleman to act like an asshole in turn. But with gentle authority damn racism, sexism, and all other forms of prejudice. It simply follows that if you believe that sexism, racism, homophobia, and all other virulent prejudices are detrimental to society, then you should repudiate them when found and support those who reject such ideas. I fear I’ve already taken too much space with this, not even close to exhausting the topic, but I’ll move on.
He does not favor violence as the first recourse. But that doesn’t mean it is not within his means. People who fashion themselves as “thugs” or brawler types should be ridiculed openly as much as any islamic terrorist who threatens violence in order to secure their superiority, and/or their impatience with scrutiny and ridicule. Every individual who begins with threats of violence in a dispute is no better than any other one. The only difference is scale.
A gentleman is obviously not of this mold. He is “benefit-of-the-doubt” giving and open to being in the wrong and backing down and apologizing. This ideal should be cultivated. But such a disposition should not be mistaken for weakness. Many a gentleman has died in a war and fallen in defense of those he loves or protects out of duty. Moreover many a gentleman has conquered and defeated legions of bullies to defend those who were set upon. So it must be said that no gentleman is above violence. This is the next issue that I fear may find detractors. But it must be said that with some opponents words will not suffice to end a disagreement and those gentleman will be advanced upon with force, to which the only answer is force overwhelming. I do not find this a vice, though I do find endless irritation with a world where it is still a necessity. And a necessity is what it is, which is why no gentleman should be without it, even if it seems, on the surface, contradictory of the title of “gentle”man.
He is not a “man’s man.” Because the ideal “man’s man” is too restricting for a gentleman. Today’s conception of masculinity is so contrived as to be caricature. Disdaining time with your girlfriend who’s buying purses (which I have recently endured) is not too be seen as “un-manly”. It may be boring, I grant you. Mainly due to the fact that you are engaged in something you find no interest in, or possibly because you are not actually partaking in the browsing, and so are left bored sitting, but none of these things are “un-manly”. You are dedicating your time and your partner is no doubt aware of it and thankful. This is an adult action to take, sober and loving. Frankly, those women who’s company is scoffed at while shopping with their current beau, will be quickly picked up by some single man who isn’t plagued with taking things for granted. I could go on forever about this, but suffice to say that most men are lucky to be with the women that have accepted them and they have a duty (equal to the duty of those women to those men) to fulfill certain obligations. You do not enter into a relationship and remain a bachelor. This is the single most prevalent and stupid misconception spread by commercials and simple men in general.
Moreover, todays conception of manhood relegates men into idiotic shells of their former selves. And I’m not talking about those days when they were in high school. I’m talking about those days when men were Renaissance men. Skilled in all those arts and trades that made life worth living. A man who can change a car battery and also enjoy a Sonnet or Sonata. It is the false contradiction that implies that a “man” can know why the Broncos drafting of Tim Tebow is odd, while that same man cannot be thought a man and know why ‘To be or not to be that is the question” is telling of Hamlet’s mood due to his breaking of iambic pentameter. This is again another large topic that I’ll leave for now.
He is not late. Ever. And if he is, he has damn good reason (traffic is never one) and is effusive in apologies.
I may update this after a while, preferably during normal waking hours. But for now, this is what I’ve got and I think it makes for a good and provocative start.