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Anatomy of a gentleman

/ 12:17 AM September 02, 2016

“Though it is much to be a nobleman,” says novelist Anthony Trollope, “it is more to be a gentleman.”

Curiously, while that sentiment was expressed in the archaic Victorian era, it still rings true to this day. Those interesting times are long gone, yet this generation of instant messaging and blatant self-promoting is not any less needful of gentlemen than the age of speakeasies and bespoke suits of our forefathers. In truth, it is beneficial for the ladies and even for other men that the gentleman should still exist, whether in crowded train stations or long queues at Starbucks. Most of all, we need the gentleman on TV and in social media, in platforms and avenues accessible to many, specially the youth.

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But what makes a gentleman in this day and age? Perhaps he is that person who does business in tailored Brooks Brothers and knows the difference between a Merlot and a Pinot noir. He doesn’t carry wads of cash, and on the occasion that he needs to, the bills are clipped and never in a wallet. He can do both a full Windsor and a half Windsor on his neckties. He knows how to take care of his moccasins. He can read Rogue magazine or mix a cocktail. He is a member of Johan Strauss Society or something as exclusive, and religiously reads Esquire or Town and Country if he is from a certain family.

“Most of all,” as has always been taught, “a gentleman carries himself with dignity.” You are, after all, your family and your education. How you present yourself to others tells how you were raised and who raised you.

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But times have changed. This image of a gentleman is no longer the aspiration or the goal. The times do not adjust to the ideal; it is the other way around. Perhaps it is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It is a good thing in this age of equality, in which a woman can do whatever a man can.

It may come off as condescending—rude, even—to be overly polite to a woman to the point of making her feel incapable. To be a real gentleman to a lady, therefore, is to accommodate that equality, whether for a seat in public transport or in levels of income. And to be a real lady is to be aware, not ignorant, of this equality.

Sometimes the lines can be blurry. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick solicited controversy when he refused to rise when the “Star Spangled Banner” was played during NFL preseason games. We can’t quickly judge this as being impolite. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” said Kaepernick. The man is bold enough to stand against racial injustice in America in spite of his fame.  But he is also a man whose respect for his flag is limited to what his country has done, and disdains what it could possibly become. Indeed, the United States has centuries on its hands to atone for its sins in the past and the present.

Sadly, the gentleman seems to be a dying breed, if not confined to a selected few. We can blame this on the idea that the fine traits of gentility and refinement can be found, and kept, only in the upper class. In this country where the system is deemed to work best only when the majority is misinformed and uneducated, maintaining a polite society is a subtle way of differentiating one group from the other—those with pedigree from those who don’t—and highlighting the wealthy minority.

This economic and intellectual bigotry justifies absolving oneself from educating the majority and disassociating from the “retards” in social media. We can use social networking as a facility for educating others with our own perceived truth, as what many are doing despite the backlash. But we also tend to keep quiet and laugh at the violent oddballs in the comments section instead, as if it were a pastime to pick at “Continue the killings” comments on Twitter and laugh at their authors. Ladies who lunch have choked on their Perrier while doing that. Leave the barking to the dogs.

But we can also blame the dying of the gentleman to declining standards among men and their behavior. US Olympian Ryan Lochte, who fabricated stories about being robbed during the Rio Olympics, acted like a spoiled frat boy by vandalizing a gas station in Barra da Tijuca while on a drunken stupor with friends one night. “They are magnificent athletes. Lochte is one of the best swimmers of all time,” International Olympic Committee spokesman Mario Andrada said. “They had fun, they made a mistake, it’s part of life, life goes on, let’s go.” Lochte lost endorsement contracts with Speedo and Ralph Lauren. But he also signed a new endorsement with Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops. He should be given a second chance, after all.

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In our society, rude behavior can be attributed to a young man’s masculinity, dismissing it as a mere rite of passage. Or if it’s a grown man in question, rudeness can be explained away as being brusko: He is just made of tough stuff. He can talk dirty all he wants and make dirty jokes on the side. Everyone can just laugh along.

What makes a gentleman in this day and age? Is it the kind of clothes he wears, the wine he drinks, or the magazine he reads? Is it the women he loves and the stories he writes? I think the gentleman in this age is a man who is keen about the company he keeps, thoughtful of the language he speaks, and firm with the decisions he makes. He is an inspiration for many, not just for the privileged few. He can make mistakes, and he can acknowledge them. He can be quite a character, respected but not feared.

Gentlemen today may vary, but what they share in common, in the words of blogger Berto in Brogues, is easy: They can “keep it classy with a glass of whiskey.”

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TAGS: Class, gentleman, gentlemanliness, respect
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