Thoughts on American Chivalry
I received one of the greatest compliments of my life a couple of weeks ago when my daughter-in-law said, “Your son is the most gentlemanly man I’ve ever met. He is chivalrous.” She could’ve said things like “most handsome,” “smartest,” “best guitar player,” which would’ve made me smile, but she said “chivalrous.” I literally couldn’t be more proud.
The idea for an American society was that we wouldn’t have impenetrable classes. Thus, every citizen was expected to behave as if he (or she when we finally got around to it) was as entitled to opportunity as the next person. Chivalry, therefore, wasn’t reserved for the elite. It was an attitude, as well as a defined set of manners and etiquette, we were taught from childhood. It is why we say “ma’am” to every female from toddlers to centenarians. It is why we say “sir” to the men who ferry our garbage or clean school bathrooms, just as we would to our employers or corporate CEO’s. We value chivalry because it incorporates core values such as integrity, courage, honor, honesty, and an ever-readiness to stand up for the weak. These are the principles of pioneers and peace-keepers, adventurers and patriots.
As you can imagine, my circle of friends is diverse. I have my paramedic and cop friends, my writer friends, my filmmaker friends, and my education friends. You may also guess that their opinions, especially those related to current politics are not always aligned. Which is to say, I have witnessed all sides.
I’ve historically refused to “talk politics” online because there are few ways I can imagine where my time could be wasted faster than trying to “educate” someone who embraces an opinion I don’t share. That said, there is nothing overtly political about calling for a return to chivalric values. I’m not so naïve as to believe someone out there won’t try to make it political. Don’t even try to engage me thusly; I’ll only ignore you. What I will say is that some of my friends from both sides of the aisle have taken a markedly bad turn when it comes to the values and manners they were raised to cherish. Deriding people—especially women—who have been thrust into public view or are in a position of authority, simply because they don’t agree with you is the antithesis of how we were raised.
I’m talking about sharing doctored videos of elected officials which make them appear intoxicated, calling political opponents “evil,” hurling invectives such as whore and slut, or calling store managers “Nazis” because they’ve pointed out their company’s policy of wearing a damn mask. These acts are puny and pathetic, and completely counter to true American values. Knock it off.
I’m going to touch the third rail for a moment and talk about the Confederate flag and monuments to Confederate leaders. Just about everyone I know is up in arms about the idea of either removing or revering such symbols. Good. That is a discussion long overdue. One of the ongoing arguments in favor of keeping them in public view is that such symbols are an homage to Southern heritage. Here’s the thing: Southerners have forever embraced chivalry as the most cherished aspect of their heritage, which means bellowing about the lowering of a flag while simultaneously cursing and dehumanizing those whose opinions don’t match your own softens that argument into a hypocritical mush.
Some will say they have the right to viciously attack elected officials or politically-motivated celebrities online. They are correct. They do have that right, but let’s not pretend that rights and doing what is right are always one and the same. I used to encounter a man who protested our government by laying an American flag on the ground and wiping his feet on the stars and stripes. People would crowd about him, incensed to the point of near-violence. At another point in my career I was assigned to protect Ku Klux Klan members spewing their vomit-speech on the steps of the capital building in Austin. My job as a public-safety officer was to defend the rights of such extremists, even as I despised their beliefs.
So, if you feel somehow compelled to express your First Amendment rights by using profanity, insults and lies, have at it. Just don’t confuse your right to do so as permission to defecate on the values of honor, courage, and kindness—the chivalric code you’ve been taught all your life. Do so at the peril of becoming less than your family, your children and, yes, your heritage expects of you. Your call.
So, here’s what’s going to happen. We are all going to cut out the social media posts calling those with a different opinion vile names a middle-schooler would use. We are going to do our own research before we share a post to make sure it is truthful. We’re going to knock off the “I know my rights” hysterics and simply do what is right. We’re going to listen before we react, consider differing viewpoints, honestly and calmly express our own opinion when it is appropriate, and in general (at the risk of sounding antiquated) act like ladies and gentlemen. Make me proud.
Hug your family for me. D.L.