Editor’s note–the following editorial is contributed by Kevin Sprague
Where have all the gentlemen gone?
I have pondered this question for a few months, since I read Peggy Noonan’s op-ed “America Needs More Gentlemen” in the Wall Street Journal.
In the piece, Noonan laments how men in our society seemingly have “lost track” of what it means to be a gentleman, failing to demonstrate even the most basic values and commitments that society once expected them to embody. And this loss is most clearly visible in how men and women relate to each other today, especially when it comes to romance.
Our society is reeling. Norms and expectations that we once implicitly agreed upon as appropriate conduct between the sexes have blurred, and this has come with consequences–sometimes serious ones (for example, the #MeToo movement).
For Noonan, part of the blame falls on men who have forgotten how to behave like gentlemen. But she also believes social media shares some of the blame. The freedoms social media grants–specifically the ability to express one’s unfiltered opinions instantly, without repercussions–often contradict classic gentlemanly values. Users feel emboldened to express their basest desires which, according to Noonan, ultimately “[spread] like a virus.”
To restore healthier relationships between the sexes, Noonan argues that society must reclaim the lost art of the gentleman.
The piece doesn’t strike me as generationally tone-deaf; in fact, I agree with her: our society needs gentlemen back. But I am convinced it will take more than the individual effort to successfully bring them back. We men will need help at least in the following ways:
- The term “gentleman” will need a societal deep cleaning. We’ve allowed contradictory values to infiltrate our understanding of the term, particularly when it comes to male-female relations.
- We’ve assumed that individualistic fulfillment, unhindered self-expression, and instant gratification would do no real harm; but we were wrong. Clearly, it has. These modern values have lowered our once lofty standards for gentlemen, allowing men to mask juvenile desires beneath a polished, well-groomed veneer.
- Men must stop justifying voyeurism and objectification as simply “visiting the gentlemen’s club” or harmless “locker room talk.” To succeed in producing more gentlemen like Macaulay Connor (Jimmy Stewart’s character from The Philadelphia Story, whom Noonan references in her piece), the Barney Stinsons of society must no longer fit our definitions.
- We will also need a clearer, more desirable vision of the gentleman’s life. In a time where social responsibilities are losing the force they once had, men will need to see why living as gentlemen is a more desirable life. Humans are led more often by desire than reason. We, men, need a vision that can captivate our minds and hearts if we are to become true modern gentlemen.
Finally, implementing this vision will require deep, personal connections with like-minded men. Digital mediums (i.e. podcasts and blogs) can spread concepts effectively, but they cannot ensure real-life application. Young men will need personal training from mentors.
Bringing gentlemen back will not be easy. It will take effort and require support.
But in the #MeToo world, we could sure use them.
Kevin Sprague is a writer originally from Marietta, Ga., currently residing in Pasadena, Calif.
A voracious reader and self-proclaimed purveyor of puns, you’ll most likely find Kevin reading at a coffee shop, spending time with his wonderful fiancée, Lindsey, or indulging in his favorite topics: sports, culture, faith, and art. You can find follow on Twitter @Kevin_D_Sprague or Instagram @kevin_sprague.
Editor’s note–for further reading on the ideals of chivalry, check out Jesus the Gentleman.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.