FLORIDA, December 16, 2012 — Traditionally, the greatest of all things that one could aspire to be was a gentleman.
Today, most people probably wonder just exactly what a gentleman is. In order to figure this out, the concept of chivalry must be understood. The mere mention of this tends to evoke images of knights in shining armor and centuries-old estates in some European country. Of course, such a perception lends credence to the notion of chivalry being outdated and noncompliant with the modern world.
One man has set out to prove that this is not the case.
Brad Miner is the author of “The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry.” He is also an accomplished literary editor who has written a great deal about politics, education and other pertinent subjects. In this first part of a detailed discussion, he explains what it means to be a gentleman, how important it is for men to present a distinct image of themselves, the most important thing to remember when interacting with others, and much more.
Joseph F. Cotto: Chivalry is a concept with which most are familiar. Nonetheless, it is not as prevalent as it once was. Why do you suppose that the times have changed?
Brad Miner: I have to reject the premise, because, whereas the word “chivalry” may be familiar, the concept is not. Most people now consider chivalry simply a more formal way of designating what we more properly call manners or etiquette, but it’s so much more than that.
Chivalry is the worldview of fighting men. Take the sword away and chivalry is eviscerated. Since World War I, and despite the many wars fought, we live in an increasingly pacifist world. People may still admire warriors, but few want to be warriors.
Cotto: In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “gentleman?”
Miner: A gentleman is a modern chivalrous man. He’s not just a man of manners; he’s a fighter, one ready to our defend civilization against modern barbarians.
He shows respect for others by being aware of himself in the world; he isn’t tossed about by external forces. His feet are on the ground.
Cotto: From your perspective, how important is it for gentlemen to present a distinct image of themselves?
Miner: In a sense, it’s not important at all. It’s the man who ought to be distinct, not his image, whatever that is. I’ll give you a small example of the big idea: If a man leaves a tailor shop wearing a new suit and friend sees him and says, “My, Reggie, but you are looking well!” then the tailor has succeeded.
But if the friend simply admires Reggie’s new suit, the tailor has failed. A man’s behavior reflects his beliefs – true of gentleman and cad alike – but a gentleman will not feel compelled to show off. He has the quiet confidence of one who has internalized key virtues: courage, honor, justice, fortitude, generosity, and prowess.
Cotto: What is the most important thing for a gentleman to remember while interacting with others?
Miner: I’m tempted to say: Remember to shut up! What I mean by that is this: Remember that it’s appropriate to be open with close friends but inappropriate to engage in pretended intimacy with strangers. A gentleman’s default attitude towards others is tolerance and politeness, not friendship and candor. We need to take time to learn who is friend and who is foe. Until there is love and respect, hold back. Restraint is an endangered virtue.
Cotto: You have written about the art of “sprezzatura.” What is this, exactly?
Miner: It is a word coined, we assume, by Baldassare Castiglione, who wrote “The Book of the Courtier” in 1528. Sprezzatura is a gentlemanly quality you could describe as effortless elegance. Castiglione is often accused of creating a man who was a mere poseur. Not true.
This effortless elegance comes at the price of long study and practice in which there may be some raw posturing in youth, but which eventually becomes quiet confidence, even mastery, in the mature man.
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