Being a Gentleman

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Hello from the corner of my study on a Saturday evening,

Today I had the opportunity and honor of being at a wedding of one of my former students. Ranee and Ben had been going out for 6 years today and this was their wedding day also. It was a very nice wedding, not elaborate, but tasteful; not crazy with unneeded things, but carefully planned and managed. It was fun to put names and faces to some of the people about whom I had heard so much over the past couple of years. Along with that, I got some work done and I hope to get more done tomorrow. It is that time of the semester. We have a week until spring break and it is going to be a bit of a crazy week. I guess that has been par for the course the entire semester, or more accurately, the year. 

One of the things I most respected about the wedding today was the calm and careful way Ranee and Ben went about things. They are both so level-headed and they are planners. It was a really fun wedding to be part of. They planned it all on their own. As I watched the dynamics of the families (which is always interesting), I learned a lot. I remember when I was a pastor, I remembered that you learned the most interesting things during baptisms (hatch), weddings (match), and funerals (dispatch). Many of the things I had heard were illustrated today, so there was no real surprises in what I saw. That is not a value statement nor a judgment, it is merely putting faces to names and, having heard some of the family history, it was easier to imagine how people would act or react at the wedding. 

The other thing I have been thinking about is that piece of advice I have noted that my grandmother gave me. When I was about 8 or 9, I was at the bakery on a Saturday, which got to happen from time to time. Well, I remember sitting in the den (this little like television room in my grandmother’s house). I am not sure what brought this topic or need to say this up, but my grandmother looked at me with her loving eyes and beautiful smile and said very kindly, and simply: “Michael, always be a gentleman.” I did not really understand all of that. I figured it had to do with minding my manners and saying “please” or “thank you”. I am not sure at the age of 8 or 9 I knew exactly what such behavior entailed. Now 50 years later, I have a very clear idea of what that meant and why it was such good advice. 

In my Foundations classes right now, the students are working on their visual argument papers. I note regularly that art reflects the culture in which is it created. The number of videos that have some relationship violence in them is disturbing to me. I know that people get into situations that are not healthy. I know that emotions are not rational. I know that things can build up, but I also know that those are excuses and not reasons for violence. I listen to lyrics by Pink, Maroon 5, Eminem and Rhianna, or It’s Britney Bitch . . . and the same theme comes through loud and clear. When I get angry (and this is for either gender), I am going to scream, punch, hit or something else worse. It comes off like it is a reasonable thing because one is angry. While I think anger is an important emotion, and one that needs to be expressed, it does not have to be in that manner. I have learned, the hard way I might add, to walk away. That does not mean I do not express it, but I take that energy and focus it into something positive: like cleaning. When I was in college, if my dorm room got seriously remodeled, the likely cause was some significant consternation about something. 

More importantly, it gets me back to the issue of being a gentleman (or being a lady for that matter), when you objectify the other person, when he or she fails to be an entity, but rather something you see as merely something you have, it is easy to forget they have emotions, needs, likes, or dislikes; it is easier yet to become self-centered or unaware of how what we do affects the other. However, it seems that my grandmother was on to something, and something important. If we behave as a gentleman or a lady, then what we do has a positive affect on the other. It values them; it tells them that they matter and what they think matters. What I have realized is that words like manners, decorum, appropriateness, or selflessness still have a valued place in our society, in our relationships, in our classrooms, or in any place that people must encounter one another. What I am realizing is that words that I heard long before I ever studied rhetoric were important to me. My grandmother distilled it down to one simple (and amazingly complex) phrase: “Michael, be a gentleman.” While I must admit, there have been moments in my life where I have failed miserably at attempting to do this, and if you were on the receiving end of that failure, please forgive me. 

I think about some of the struggles I see people have, and to or with some of them I am quite close. I hope I can somehow demonstrate in a positive way that being a gentleman has not gone, and never will be, out of style. I hope that I can illustrate that what my amazing and kind grandmother shared with me that long ago is not only valuable, it is essential. If we are going to be a civil society, at any level, merely treating others with respect and tolerance, with openness and genuine honesty, with kindness and grace, will lead us to a better world. In the meanwhile, I will continue my mission in trying to pay attention to my grandmother’s words. I should note that I am looking for an appropriate picture.

Thanks for reading,

Michael (aka: Dr./Mr./Pastor Martin)

2 thoughts on “Being a Gentleman

  1. You’re probably more familiar with the Bible than I am, but I often read James 1:19-21. It makes me realize that anger is not necessarily a wrong emotion (God gave us the ability to feel), but that we need to be careful of what we do with our anger. I also feel that in this modern-day world, that people feel that their actions when they’re angry are excusable when they are not.
    I also saw something today that said something like “Objects are to be used, people are to be loved, not the other way around” and I feel that is a very important message – we need to value people as human beings and not as objects to be objected or used for our own means.
    God bless amazing grandparents that taught us manners.

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