Qualities of a Gentleman
Letters from refined Columbians
The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements, who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe. — John Walter Wayland
Over the years of raising three daughters, we had many discussions of the qualities of a lady. I had wonderful role models with my mother, both grandmothers and aunts. These ladies each had different ways of teaching me the virtues of a Southern lady, but the essence of the message was much the same.
Since our daughters had no brothers, they did not have the benefit of hearing Henry, their father, share with a son the qualities of a gentleman. Thus, I asked several special men, who model these virtues in every day living, to share their thoughts on how to define a gentleman. The following letters, written several years ago, are the result of thoughtful time they each poured into writing wonderful descriptions. Their letters are truly inspirational!
Thank you for the honor of providing you with my ideas regarding the concept of a “gentleman.” Much has been written on the subject, but I am thankful for the opportunity to offer my perspective. It is the actions and behaviors of a man, in good and bad times that in part, define the gentleman versus that of the common man. Those actions and behaviors affect and shape our society. They make a statement of who we are as a people.
My primary point to you is that a gentleman strives to excel as a person and provides kindness and respect toward others. He does this regardless whether it is beneficial for him to do so. He demonstrates humility and shows graciousness to all people and things. The gentleman puts others first before himself. Education, breeding and wealth are not necessary determinants of a gentleman. A gentleman is a man of character. The gentleman shows respect and a sense of pride in himself, e.g. health and appearance, but is not boastful or “wears it on his sleeve.” The gentleman personifies the total concept of chivalry, not just in manners, but also in knowing that there is “right and wrong.” The gentleman is willing to stand up for what is “right” and be willing to fight for it with his mind and/or body. A gentleman does not “play the fool” or act as a doormat. Some people do not understand how one can be both gracious and firm. A gentleman understands balance.
A gentleman has heroes and learns from them. He is motivated by the heroes’ actions and inspired by great literature. Examples include George Washington, Robert E. Lee, the gentleman’s father, Polonius’ Advice to Laertes found in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Kipling’s If. The gentleman can appreciate both the common and finer things of life. He values education, both theory and practical. The gentleman appreciates the artist’s efforts even if he does not understand what the artist is attempting to convey.
A gentleman’s inspiration does not come only from men. Neither does his strength and moral code. Jesus Christ is the gentleman’s greatest teacher, rock and redeemer. A gentleman has strong faith in God. The gentleman has great love and respect for ladies. Mothers, wives and lovers are a very important source of inspiration, strength, comfort and support. Dieu et les Dames — God and the Ladies are cornerstones in a gentleman’s foundation. It is important to note that there are gentlemen from different faiths and cultures. The commonality is the belief in something greater than the self, a strong value set and character.
It is important to recognize that all gentlemen are flawed and will commit sins, experience failures and setbacks. It is a part of the human condition and not a sign of hypocrisy. A gentleman is not perfect. A gentleman recognizes his imperfections and attempts to improve. He can accept imperfections in others. When a gentleman fails, observe his actions and how he overcomes challenges. When a friend or loved one fails the gentleman, observe his reactions. A gentleman can forgive himself and others.
Although this discussion is about the concept of a gentleman, please know that these values and character traits also apply to ladies. There is an importance and a need for gentlemen and ladies in our world. It is their values and traits that create strong relationships between husbands and wives, within families, friends, and communities. They become role models and servant leaders. They make a statement. They represent us. They improve our world.
J. West Summers, III
Raising boys to embody the characteristics of Christ, and thus a gentleman, is both challenging and rewarding. It starts with teaching the word of God and at least attempting to exemplify it by living it out day by day. Honor, duty and respect are characteristics that are found in Proverbs.
Several years ago I took the boys on a bus trip to numerous civil war battlefields. The trip was for fathers and sons and was led by a Presbyterian minister from North Carolina. The underlying objective was to focus on certain heroes of the war who exemplified Christian character and thus are well known as Southern gentlemen. Afterward I encouraged them to read biographies of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jeb Stuart. Stuart was especially enlightening as he was very popular with the ladies.
However, the author pointed out his great faith and respect for women which only served to enhance his popularity. I hope the boys understood the example.
Manners begin and end with common courtesy. While matters of proper etiquette may fill volumes and are often difficult for boys, and of course some men, teaching common courtesy is much simpler. Respect, civility, kindness and consideration are concepts even teenage boys comprehend. Opening a door, standing when a woman enters the room and waiting until she is seated before sitting down are things that need reinforcing but are easily implanted in their minds. Especially if I occasionally remember them as well!
We try to impress upon our boys the importance of first impressions. Sometimes we only get one opportunity to leave an impression. What would we like it to be?
Finally, I would undergird all these things with prayer. God loves to hear and answer the desires of our hearts.
Thank you for including us in this endeavor.
I have put my literary skill to work to create your requested information. The word gentleman certainly has many meanings. The first that comes to mind is a man or boy who opens the doors for ladies or girls. Gentlemen will always open doors for both males and females, but this is only one of the many attributes of a gentleman. In my opinion, there is much more to being a gentleman. It is a way of life.
A gentleman is always sincere and honest with the highest level of integrity. They are trustworthy and always available to lend a hand when someone is in need. A young lady can recognize a gentleman over time by identifying if he is kind and sincere at all times. He must be dependable as a friend, one that can always be counted on. Gentlemen, like all of us, mature with age. Gentlemen “in training” will show most of the traits above, but “mature” gentlemen will have all of these traits as well as time-earned wisdom in many fields. But most of all, all gentlemen will have red hair.
James B. Haynes
I’ve been asked to speak and write about many things in my life, but your request to express my thoughts about the characteristics of a gentleman have given me pause for consideration. I think the pause arises from the fact that you graciously included me in those ranks while asking for my reflections on such a man. Possibly the core motivating characteristic of a gentleman stems from his humility. Hence, the hesitancy to elaborate on a man who is humble to begin with.
Unfortunately the world’s definition of humility often indicates weakness of character. Something less than a strong backbone. The Bible would teach us otherwise. It explains that it takes a great deal of moral and personal fortitude to be willing to put others before yourself. I think at the core of every gentleman is the willingness to place others above themselves. Yes, outwardly that may be evidenced by acts of respect and courtesy such as holding a chair for a lady or the door for another, but inwardly I believe the gentleman is one that strives to understand the condition of his fellow man and then assist when and as he is able. Our Lord Jesus Christ would be the perfect gentleman.
Joseph Walker, II
I am complimented by your request for me to describe a gentleman. My parents taught me manners, courtesy and provided a Christian home, which embodied the foundation for my faith and beliefs.
The manners included things such as: always rise when an elder enters the room, any female above the age of 8, any clergy of any faith. Always remove your hat, cap, etc. when entering a building and/or elevator or any room other than a barn.
The True Gentleman (on page 28) was a mandatory memory selection upon pledging my fraternity when I entered my university. It is explicit, and I could never improve upon it. This along with the special prayer for peace that St. Francis of Assisi wrote have meant much to me, along with my heritage, throughout my life as an adult.
You had requested I write something up regarding what being a gentlemen means to me. The Lord is good and continues to bless us more that we could ever ask or think.
I believe in the writing taken from John Walter Wayland entitled The True Gentleman.
While I fall short in much of his description, I thank God for providing me with a mother and father who instilled much of this in me, my father until his death and my mother (soon to be 90) to this day. I also have an older brother (10 years) whom I look up to for guidance and advice and who has many of the qualities listed above.
I find it challenging on a day-to-day basis to hold true to being a gentleman faced with the battle of this world and the temptations it offers.
Bruce (the late Bruce Snell)