Such a Gentleman!
I think we all share a common understanding of what we mean when we say a man is a gentleman. A courteous and honorable person who consistently treats people kindly and respectfully. Well-mannered. Ah – well-mannered. We have officially stepped into a discussion of class. Unfortunately. Can a poor young man, a kind and thoughtful young man, be described as a gentlemen if he doesn’t display the ‘proper’ rules of etiquette?
Manners – those wonderful cultural inventions that support smooth social interactions. They quiet tensions and demonstrate respect. And – they expose social class almost immediately. It’s not just the handshake – it is every detail about the handshake. Eye contact? The muscularity? The greeting? Hand on a woman’s back as you both pass through a doorway? There are dozens of tiny nuances that can show ease and sophistication – or awkwardness.
The link between the word ‘gentleman’ and class is built into the definition, since it was first used to specifically identify men of wealth and leisure. We haven’t strayed far, have we?
Here in the US we pride ourselves on our ability to underplay or overcome strict class levels. For sure that is true economically. People can transcend several classes in a single generation – become billionaires. But money does not make someone a gentleman. There is an old saying, “Money talks. Wealth whispers.”
To better demonstrate our commitment to equality of opportunity, we couldn’t go wrong by teaching all kids the choreography of community interaction. It might be as important to success as learning the value of work and basic investment strategies.
Maybe next time we can talk about the term, ‘lady’ – the equivalent of gentleman. Needless to say I have some thoughts about that. Til then.