What is a gentleman?

“The appellation of Gentleman is never to be affixed to a man’s circumstances, but to his Behavior in them.”  

 ~Sir Richard Steel~

Butc(h)er is dedicated to the idea that anyone can be a gentleman.  If that is true and you don’t have to be a man to be a gentleman, then what exactly is a gentleman?  Defining what makes one a gentleman is like trying to hit a moving target because it is a little different for each person.

woman in tuxedo

To me, being a gentleman is about striving to become the highest ideal of myself. It’s about trying every day to embody the values and morals and ethics and behavior I hold in high regard and trying to emulate those ideals a little better than yesterday. It is about learning more about myself and the world and the great people in it to improve myself, my actions and my inner self. Sometimes it is about faking it until I make it. It’s about acting like the ideal me would act until I become that person I wish to be.

For me, a gentleman:
  • Is courteous
  • Is respectful
  • Is helpful
  • Is considerate
  • Is aware
  • Is capable
  • Is always growing and learning
  • Is thoughtful
  • Is honest
  • Is well-mannered
  • Is appropriate
  • Is a scholar (of life or their craft at least)
  • Is well spoken
  • Is socially skilled
  • Is involved (with family or community)
  • Is prepared
  • Is kind
  • Is generous
  • Is interested
  • Is reflective
  • Is authentic

A list like that can be overwhelming to take on all at once, of course.  But I like to read over these ideals from time to time and remind myself of them.  This helps me to try to incorporate them into my daily life.  I may be in a hurry, but I can take a moment to hold the door for the person behind me.  I may disagree with someone at work, but I can still treat them respectfully.  I may be tired after work, but my wife probably is too, so I can remember to be helpful with preparing dinner and tidying the house.  I may feel like sitting on my couch watching football all weekend, but instead I’ll show up at the fundraiser in my community.

Being conscious of these ideals is the first step in attaining them as part of my daily life.  Becoming a gentleman is not some unrealistic, unattainable, unsustainable goal in today’s world.  It is as easy as deciding what you think a gentleman is, and then finding ways to practice those characteristics in your daily life.

You don’t have to wear a tuxedo on your date to be a gentleman.  You don’t have to host dinner parties or only wear suits to work.  You decide what being a gentleman means to you.  If your definition of gentlemanly characteristics is different from mine, good!   You should define your own set of values and characteristics.  The key is to take time to reflect and decide for yourself.

Dench

  “Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.”

~John Locke~

30 Minutes to Becoming a Gentleman

  • Take a notebook and pen and settle into your favorite chair.  Spend about 5 minutes just thinking about what you think of as a gentleman before you start writing.  If you get stuck, it can be helpful to reverse engineer the thoughts:  first, think about what a gentleman isn’t.  If you think a gentleman is not rude to strangers, then maybe you think a gentleman is courteous and respectful to strangers.  If you think a gentleman wouldn’t wear cargo shorts and a tank top to the symphony, then maybe you think a gentleman would get dressed up.  And so on.
  • Now spend 10-15 minutes writing down the traits that you think a gentleman has and then review your list.
  • Spend the last several minutes writing a few paragraphs about why you would like to incorporate those traits into your own life.  Would being helpful around the house make your wife or girlfriend feel supported?  Would dressing a little better help you feel more confident?  Would taking time to brush up on your social skills give your career a boost?  Write down why you think being a gentleman would help you improve your life.
  • Make a cheat sheet.  After you’ve finished writing everything down, take an index card and write down 2-3 of the traits you want to focus on first.  Put the index card somewhere you will see it every day like the bathroom mirror or the dashboard of your car.  Every so often, make a new card with different traits to work on.

Many people think the idea of being a gentleman is antiquated and no longer resonates in today’s fast paced, me-first world.  I don’t believe that is true.  Becoming a gentleman does not mean acting like some 1940s archetype.  Instead, it is defining what characteristics I believe a gentleman in today’s world would have and then working to attain those ideals in my life.

Aspiring to being a gentleman does not mean subscribing to some outdated definition.  It means choosing what values are important to you and then working to make your life reflect those values.  Becoming a gentleman is simply a process of deciding who your ideal self would be and then becoming that person.

 

 

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