a perfect gentleman

We home schooled, and my wife used to refer to our three sons as “gentlemen-in-training,” a more gracious way of saying what I called “civilizing little savages.”

It’s the same thing, in some ways. Civility is not a natural outflow of the human heart. As David explained in Psalm 51, we “were brought forth in iniquity.”

No one who ever seriously considered a two-year old doubts that we have a sin nature, in need of transformation and training. In fact, no one who has ever seriously considered a 50 year old doubts it either.

Over at the Front Porch Republic, however, Mark T. Mitchell has described the Attributes of A Gentleman, or rather, “Mr. Darcy’s Rules of Engagement” based on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.I’ll leave the literary implications to Mitchell, and I encourage you to read his essay, especially if you are a Jane Austen fan.

But I like his list of attributes, which presupposed a capacity for sound judgment. He writes, “When we lose the ability to make distinctions, or lose the courage to do so, we simultaneously lose any meaningful notion of the gentleman.”

Here is the list:

Propriety. This is a sense of appropriateness grounded in a concern for other people’s comfort. This is not just about what’s socially acceptable, but about the effect of our actions on those around us. It’s the sort of thing that once led George Washington to drink his soup out of a bowl, so as not to embarrass a guest.

Amiability. This sense of propriety leads a gentleman to be genuinely interested in the ideas of others. You can be friendly and self-centered, of course. In an age of narcissism, we have enough celebrities and politicians around to know that such earnest civility is not about the capacity to make everything a joke or to take oneself too seriously. Amiability arises from our ability to respect others.

Constancy. And of course we have to respect others in this way all the time, not just when it is to our advantage. More importantly, this steadfastness is about principle itself, not our habits of life or self-serving expectations. The whole concept of being a gentleman reflects higher ideals, and the courage to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced to practice them.

Sacrifice. In its extreme this willingness to do so is called sacrifice—of time, resources and popularity. Gentlemen do the right thing regardless, and this right thing is in other people’s interests. This should start at home, of course, with our wives and children, even our mothers and fathers, long after they have become a joy to care for.

But it reaches into all our relationships, at church and work. And it should be mostly invisible, so natural that people no longer notice. When others expect us to act with courage and conviction we have become gentlemen. When they are surprised when we do, we have much yet to learn.

Vulnerability. A man who has disciplined himself to act appropriately, be friendly, and make sacrifices is most likely also willing to admit when he is wrong. He can learn from others and speak candidly on behalf of those who have less opportunity and fewer resources. This man is a gentleman, regardless of where he buys his clothes.

You don’t have to be born to class or status to be this man. But you probably will need some help, since it is not our nature to act in this way. The gospel is a necessary first step, since it requires us to welcome the help of God himself.

The rest is practice.

However imperfectly, I think I’ve modeled this for my sons. And for my daughter too, although I’ve never aspired for her to be a gentleman. Princess, maybe.

But on Father’s Day I’m glad that my sons are, generally, gentlemen whose lives reflect these attributes. More than I do, actually. I can list some things each of them still has to learn. I can list more things I still have to learn too. I’m not really good at making other people feel comfortable.

However, as I watch the sacrifice they make, and the hospitality they evidence, and the integrity of their lives, I am encouraged.

They are off to a better start than I was. Opening doors for ladies and saying “yes, Ma’am” and “yes, Sir” was bred into me, a first-born son of the South.

But being a gentleman is more than that.

Who has modeled being a gentleman to you?

6 thoughts on “a perfect gentleman”

  1. Encouraging! Just the information I think my heart was looking to chew on.

    However, I’m a bit confused. You mention your three sons…

    I’ve counted Christian, Michael and me. Have you forgotten about Pilgrim already?! He’s only been in Africa a few weeks….

  2. I loved this post, because one of the most important things my father taught me, and not even directly but it came through in all his teachings- was how to choose my friends wisely. Especially for me, as his tomboyish daughter, I tended to get a long better with guys, and yet he taught me how to be gentle and wise, and those same skills helped me select a worthy husband. I also just posted on what my father has taught me, and what we’ve experienced together… I look forward when I can post those things about my own children like you have. 🙂

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