We are examples for others, whether we want to be or not. We influence the development of those around us. Let’s embrace this rather than live in the fantasy that it doesn’t exist.
“Manhood is the defeat of childhood narcissism.” –David Gilmore
The ideals of Chivalry and Gentlemanly behavior are not exclusive to European cultures and its descendants. All across the world, independently from each other, similar moral codes were developed for men. One of these is the ancient Chinese concept of being a Junzi, literally meaning “lord’s son” but often translated as “gentleman,” to describe the ideal man. The Junzi is supposed to combine the qualities of a saint, a scholar, and a gentleman. Anyone with a hereditary position, meaning that they had the privilege of being born in the right side of society, was bound to this concept and was expected to act as a moral guide to the rest of society. Confucianism expanded this concept, so any righteous man willing to improve himself could become a Junzi. They had to:
- Cultivate themselves morally;
- Cultivate themselves culturally and participate in the correct performance of ritual;
- Cultivate humaneness and charity; and
- Show filial piety and loyalty where these are due.
A Junzi enforces his ideals by being an example of what he preaches, letting his actions speak for him, and striving to be loyal, obedient and knowledgeable at all times. It is through pure virtue that he would lead others to follow his example. The ultimate goal was that the government of their times should behave much like family, with the Junzi having the moral obligations of a mentor and father figure.
The opposite ideal of the Junzi was the Xiaoren, literally meaning “small or petty person.” He was someone who does not grasp the value of virtues and seeks only immediate gains. A Xiaoren was egotistic and didn’t consider the consequences of his actions in the overall scheme of life. He was viewed as someone who was petty in mind and heart, self-interested, greedy, superficial, and materialistic.
We can’t start addressing the required values and virtues of a Gentleman without looking at the reality of being privileged or, as described for the Junzi, being born in the right side of society and blessed by good fortune. We are all privileged in one way or another. Becoming uncomfortable when told you are privileged doesn’t make it any less true. The fact that you can eat today means you’re privileged. The fact that you have a roof over your head means you’re privileged. The fact that you have the resources to access this site and enough literacy to read this information means you’re privileged.
Now we each have to look at how we are blessed, especially when in relation to the rest of society. The fact that you can go to a party and get drunk without worrying that someone might date rape you or the fact that you don’t have to keep an eye out to make sure someone doesn’t slip something into your drink at a club, means you’re privileged. The fact that an employer doesn’t take into account the possibility of a maternity leave or think about how many times you might be absent because your kid is sick when they hire you, means you’re privileged. The fact that cops don’t “Stop and Frisk” you because of the color of your skin or the fact that you can drive a nice car without suspicions that you stole it or that you are a drug dealer, means you’re privileged. The fact that you don’t get an automatic background check to verify your citizenship just because your name isn’t typical or the fact that you can openly have items from your culture or your religion without fear of persecution, means you’re privileged. The fact that you can walk down the street holding hands with your lover or the fact that you can get married to them, means you’re privileged. The fact that your family can pay for your studies or the fact that you have a guaranteed job because of your family name, means you’re privileged. I could go on and on.
The reality is that EVERYONE is privileged in one way or another, just some more than others. That’s the way the world is. Ignoring this reality won’t make it go away. As you move through life, you have three ways you can handle the reality of privilege.
- You can ignore your reality under the idea that you “earned” everything you have and therefore live in the wonderful bliss of ignorance.
- You can accept the fact of your privilege status and live on without the need to do anything about it, feeling no obligations or guilt about it.
- You can accept the fact that you are privileged, be thankful for it and work to help those less privileged to reach the same level of privilege in the extent that you can.
The first attitude simply demonstrates you are still immature and ignorant to the reality of the world. You choose to live as a child and will remain so until you choose to grow up. The second attitude is the path of the petty man, or as the Confucians call them, the Xiaoren. You choose to place yourself and your personal interests over the interests of the community. The truth is you don’t have any real obligations to do anything for anyone. Just don’t try to say you are a good man, because you are only lying to yourself. The third attitude is the path of the Good Man, the Gentleman, the Junzi.
Before you chose an attitude or path, consider this reality of life: We are examples for others, whether we want to be or not. We, even the anti-social and the introverted, influence the development of those around us. The way a man treats another man teaches about character and honor. The way a man treats a woman teaches a lesson on the relations between genders. The way a father treats his son’s mother teaches boys how they should treat women. The way a father treats his daughter’s mother teaches girls what is acceptable from men. The way a man treats someone of another religion teaches about morality and tolerance. The way a man treats someone from another race or sexual orientation teaches about diversity. The way a man treats people from other economic statures teaches about social justice. And so forth and so on.
We will teach these lessons, whether we want to or not, every day. We are role models, no matter how reluctant we are about it. We choose how we treat each other; therefore we choose what kind of lesson we teach. We have the opportunity to teach the proper lessons or we can choose to be petty and narcissistic. The Caballero, the Gentleman, the Chivalrous Man, the Junzi accepts this role of mentorship as an honor, with all the responsibilities it carries. He recognizes his privileges and accepts his obligations to society. He chooses to live by actions, serving as an example and inspiration to others, living up to the standards of the Ideal Man.
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–Photo: Cuito Cuanavale/Flickr