Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Gentleman

Today, Anna and I studied an interesting, brief essay by John Henry Newman, called "The Gentleman."

Where are the gentlemen out there? And why do most men who do want to be gentlemen, not know how?
Mr. Newman gives the men of the world some tips:

"It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain.... He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him, and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself."

In other words, a true gentleman is like a perfect English butler.  He is invisible.  He makes your life easier by every action he takes. He thinks constantly of the comfort of others.
Newman says he is "like an easy chair or a good fire." Nature does provide rest and warmth in other ways, but none are so comforting as a soft wing-back, and a blazing, well-tended fire.

"The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or jolt in the minds of [others] . . . his great concern being to make everyone at their ease and at home."

In other words, the man who runs up to the door, jostles my purse off my shoulder, grabs the door handle, shouts, "Let me get that for you," and otherwise draws attention to himself and embarrasses me, is not a gentleman.  He is well-intentioned, I'm sure, but he does not know what he is about. If he wants to be a gentleman, he should be invisible. He should be helpful.  His job at the door is to allow me to enter the building as if I were silently walking through a wall, without missing a step, without the slightest annoyance. A gentleman's goal should be to make me feel good, and look good.
I'm embarrassed to tell you what Mr. Newman says about how a gentleman conducts himself in conversation. He remembers the names of those he's talking with. He avoids unreasonable allusions that his listener will not understand. He steers away from topics that may irritate his listener. He does not make himself prominent in conversation, defers to others, and is never wearisome. He does not listen to slander or gossip, and interprets everything for the best. He is never, ever rude.

Do you know anybody like this anymore? I'm afraid the internet has encouraged us all to be as ungentlemanly as possible!

And ladies, Mr. Newman's assumption, in the 19th century, is that ladies know how to be ladies. If gentlemen are to be gentle, deferring, helpful, smooth, and generally make us look like ladies, we must allow them to do so. Both sexes have forgotten the old dance. In order to dance it well again, both partners must practice.

Thank you, Mr. Newman!

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