“You follow the rules of war for you — not your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity.” -Lt. Franz Stigler-
As I continue with my crusade for a redefined code for the Modern Gentleman, I am confronted constantly with comments about equating Gentlemanly behavior to manners and about gender neutral civility trumps chivalry. Something about those comments just didn’t seem to relate to my own experience with chivalry and my own upbringing. I used to think it was simply another Culture or Age Gap, but then why was it that I found so many like-minded individuals, especially with those who grew up in the inner city, martial artists, and military men. Maybe it’s that most traditional martial artists and soldiers still follow codes very similar to chivalry. Maybe it was that those who grow up in the inner city have a stronger sense of community and looking out for those around him. What was the link between these martial men, men within close communities, and my own upbringing?
And as it usually happens, it was a random comment from a random person that made it all make sense. A friend, a lady who grew up outside of the US, said an interesting comment. “Men here have no idea how to be Gentlemen. None of them open doors to women or offer a seat in the bus. Back home, this was something ever man would do naturally, but here? They either don’t do it or think they have to be applauded when they do.” Keep in mind that she is not Latina, but actually is from Thailand.
Then as if a cartoon bulb went off, it all made sense. Being a gentleman, as I have mentioned before, is about offering protection and having self-discipline. I have also mentioned how chivalry, manners, and most other ethical codes developed as a way to create order. Understand that what we view as manners today where actually developed by the military class as a way to control social chaos. So the common thread was violence, or more so how to combat violence!
I have noticed chivalry and gentlemanly acts tend to be almost automatic in men raised in communities where violence in city streets is an everyday occurrence. I am not talking about irregular mugging in the park or the generalized obsession about the possibility that you might be the victim of a crime, any crime, which holds most suburbanites in constant fear. The world I’m talking about is the inner city reality where street violence is an accepted reality of life. As you grow up in this environment, you develop a “healthy degree of Paranoia” and an understand the importance of looking out for each other.
I am not going to go into what causes a society spiral out of control, as it would distract from the discussion at hand. What I will discuss is how this forges you as a man. You tend to develop a tactical mentality, where every time you walk into a place and look for possible threats and exit strategies. Your ethics, your actions, and your behavior are what separate you from the less than savory element of the city. As a man, you understand you or those with you might be beaten or even killed, if caught unprepared. You also understand that women, besides enduring the same threats as men, have the additional threat of being raped. So becoming a “Better Man”, a Gentleman in this kind of society, is not just about having manners, but about providing a sense or safety for those around you.
Most old-school martial arts were developed in countries were similar social violence was common, so they focus on being able to defend yourself and those around you without becoming what you are defending against. Most of them expect the practitioners to develop self-discipline and a strict moral code. martial artists accept their role as defenders, and focus on not becoming what they fight against.
This is also common among most soldiers, who train to confront similar situations to the ones already described. For military men, it goes even further. The U.S. Army’s Laws of Land Warfare (FM 27-10) establish that soldiers must always conduct themselves “with regard for the principles of chivalry and humanity.” Unfortunately, we see more and more people who think that honorable behavior should only be given to honorable opponents. This is completely unacceptable. There is something worse than death, and it is to completely lose your humanity.
So with that in mind I want you to re-evaluate some chivalrous traditional acts. Stop viewing them from a “manners” point of view. Realize you are a deterrent between the social predators and the rest of society. With this in mind, it’s easier to reconsider what you might think about opening your car door to a lady. It gives you an opportunity to glance your surroundings for possible threats. Now you understand how walking a woman to her car isn’t about being a nice guy, but about making sure she makes it safe without some creep getting any ideas. You start walking on the street side of the sidewalk, not to protect her from being splashed by a car, but to keep her safe from random threats. You offer your seat in a crowded bus because it’s easier to react if you are standing up.
It’s funny, these things become second nature when you grow up in such an environment. But every time I hear about some girl being assaulted at night on a collage campus, I don’t think about what she could have done to stop it. I ask myself where the hell her male friends were. I ask myself how any of them could have simply walked her home, just because they are her friend, how the guy who went after her might have thought about it twice if he saw her accompanied, and then I think of men who think it’s not their problem.