Articles From the February 1995 Unification News


On Being A Gentleman

by Haven Bradford Gow

Are courtesy, thoughtfulness, kindness and decency out of date? Are discourtesy and rudeness rather than courtesy and kindness now the norm in all aspects of our lives, including our social and business activities?

Writing in the Jan. 1, 1995 Memphis Commercial Appeal, social critic Melody Rutland observes: "Rude behavior seems to be the accepted form and norm of service now.... I simply want to be treated with respect. When I do business with a company, then an apology (for rude and obnoxious conduct) would not be needed, but if an apology is needed I would like to be given one and to know the employees are made aware that this behavior is not acceptable at any time."

She adds: "There are too many other businesses to allow bad service and rude behavior by even one employee. Good customer service is in desperate need of a comeback."

According to Don Feder, a columnist for The Boston Herald and author of A Conservative Jews Looks at Pagan America (Lafayette, La.: Huntington House), "Urban life presents daily examples of thoughtless behavior: The pompous secretary whose specialty is long distance intimidation, the waitress who says `have a nice day' with a frown on her face, the cashier who practically throws your change at you, the idiot driver who begins blasting his horn milliseconds after the light changes, and the boobs who jostle you on crowded sidewalks." Indeed, says Mr. Feder, "The ultimate justification for politeness is self- interest combined with regard for others.... The essence of etiquette is kindness and consideration."

It was the eminent 18th-century British statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke who observed that two qualities are essential to the survival of civilized society: the spirit of religion and the spirit of the gentleman. The spirit of religion means acknowledgment of a Supreme Being and the protection and recognition of God-given rights and the performance of corresponding duties.

But what does it mean to be a "gentleman"? Adam Williams, a student at Golightly Vocational Tech in Detroit, Michigan, provides this answer: "A gentleman has unique qualities and character. Some people think that a gentleman has to be well-dressed, but it is the quality of character he possesses (that makes someone a gentleman)."

The gentleman, as Mr. Williams goes on to say, "is kind and generous, and takes responsibility for his own actions. He is equally respectful to both male and female." The gentleman "opens a door for a lady, just as a mother taught him to do. He speaks well with others. He is willing to help out his fellowman in any way he possibly can, and is not ashamed to give praise to God. He has a pleasing smile for those he greets."

The above description of being a gentleman reminds one of Cardinal John Henry Newman's classic essay on what it means to be a gentleman. According to Cardinal Newman, the gentleman is "tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant and merciful towards the absurd.... He never speaks of himself unless compelled, never defends himself by mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip...."

The gentleman, continued Newman, is "patient and forbearing"; he resigns himself to suffering because "it is inevitable, to bereavement because it is irreparable and to death because it is his destiny." And if the gentleman engages in controversy of any kind, "his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blundering discourtesy of better, perhaps, but less educated minds, who, like blunt weapons, tear and hack instead of cutting clean, who mistake the point in argument, waste their strength on trifles, misconceive their adversary and leave the question more involved than they find it."

Clearly, we must and should display courtesy, kindness and thoughtfulness to others, but not simply because these qualities enhance social and business relations; rather, courtesy, kindness, decency and consideration are expressions of one's love and respect for others. True, good manners help facilitate social and human relations; however, as Professor Richard Taylor points out in his book A Return to Christian Culture, the true Christian understands that "politeness is not a device for getting something he wants; it is an expression of love and respect. It is a mark of Christian sensitivity."

What motivates and inspires the Christian's courtesy, kindness and nobility of mind, spirit and character, then, is the Christian's love for Christ and for his neighbor, and his significant recognition of Christ's love for him. It is this love for Christ and the awareness of His love for us that makes us sensitive to the human beings around us and to their sensibilities and feelings. Christ's love for us gives us a sense of the feelings of others so that we desire not to hurt or embarrass them. Our love for Christ and for our fellowman, then, will cause us to want to learn the art of courtesy and kindness.


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