Being a Gentleman seems to be mostly surface in the modern age, but there’s more to it than being able to open the door for a lady, spout quotes from famous works of literature, and tell the difference between oxfords and brogues. Being a gentleman is about working hard to be the very best version of yourself, which in turn helps society and culture.
So what makes a man a gentleman?
The dictionary definition of “gentleman” is, “possessing, characterized by, or arising from superiority or character of ideals or morals”. This is a definition that, frankly, isn’t quite satisfactory.
A cursory search on the internet will provide you with lists of the materials and habits required to fit the title, and give pictures of sharply dressed clean cut men with vintage cameras or books in their hands, portraying them as intellectual creative types. Always with a big smile or optimistic look on their faces, the gentleman is never seen as ‘down’ in this widely used view, and is always in some fantastical mood while accomplishing great things as many people look up to him.
Now, there are some unspoken ‘rules’ in the gentleman’s bible that are material, and although the essence of gentlemanliness doesn’t arise from them, they help to mold a better, well rounded and respected person.
Here are ten that tend to be a common point, but there are lists far more expansive than what I’ve compiled;
- A gentleman never lies to a lady, unless it is to surprise her.
- A gentleman says what he means, and means what he says.
- A gentleman always keeps correspondence with those he cares about, in any capacity.
- A gentleman is open minded, but firm in his beliefs
- A gentleman is never jealous, not even for an instant.
- A gentleman has a firm handshake and maintains strong eye contact while in conversation.
- A gentleman knows that anything worth having, is worth working hard for.
- A gentleman knows how to draw the line between confidence and arrogance.
- A gentleman is always humble.
- A gentleman is always well presented; regardless of situation, company, or occasion.
There are also the far more material rules of chivalry which everyone should believe in, but they are so often used by internet gentleman neck beards it’s hard to take them seriously without mocking those people, but generally they outline to always put others before yourself.
(Side tips: there’s never a reason to call someone “m’lady”, don’t wear a fedora (unless you are Frank Sinatra), but most important to remember, absolutely don’t ever tip it at someone.)
The reason those aforementioned rules are not engraved into stone by gentleman preceding today is because the term is very subjective. What matters most about becoming a gentleman is made apparent by those considered as one, and this is where first person experience weighs much heavier than study and theory.
The famous writer and world class man’s man Ernest Hemingway once said,
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
For me, this sets up nicely what the quintessential groundwork for being a gentleman is. It is about being the best version of yourself always, and not allowing yourself to stoop to the levels of someone who is lower in moral character than yourself. Don’t disregard those people, but empathize with them and find glory in understanding.
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami (who your girlfriend has most definitely quoted before on her Tumblr, look him up) said about gentleman in his novel “Norwegian Wood” that
“A gentleman is someone who does not what he wants to do, but what he should do.”
This represents a structure built off of, yet separate from, Ernest Hemingway’s groundwork that idealizes the gentleman as someone who lives his life by the highest standards of society.
There is miniature debate about these two “schools of thought” on gentlemanliness, Hemingway’s idea being that the best version of you is always the better version of your past self, and Hurakami’s being that in order to become the best version of yourself you should aspire to be the best version of ‘man’ society dictates is possible.
The biggest difference of the two being that in Hemingway’s idea, you move from impurities to purities, and Hurakami’s idea proposes building with the ultimate goal in mind, conforming your impurities to be purities based on the already set principles of the purities.
So which one is right?
There isn’t a truly right or wrong answer, mostly because it’s not a true “school of thought” that needs heavy debate, but it presents two different ways of living the best possible version of your life with the same final destination in mind. The bottom line is to live true to yourself, but to a higher standard of yourself.
Modern internet neck-beard gentleman in mind, don’t let those lesser people tarnish the greatness of being recognized as a true gentleman by those around you. Before the degradation of mankind’s moral values as we transitioned out of modernism into post-modernism, being a gentleman was the best way to have others think of you. Someday, our world will hopefully look like that again.