What I Would Tell My Son About Chivalry

“Justice is better than chivalry if we cannot have both.”
– Alice Stone Blackwell

I cannot make many certain claims about the future. I am certain our two-party system will create more problems than it will solve. I am certain that the next “miracle diet” will be worthless (unless it includes an Oreo ration, of course), and I am certain that whatever the food industry comes up with to replace trans fats will somehow be worse than trans fats. (On that note: can we just bring back beef fat for fryers? There’s no way that’s worse than what we’re using now and it’s oh so much more delicious.) One thing I am not certain about, though, is how relevant chivalry will be ten, twenty, thirty years from now. Considering the rate at which gender roles and norms are changing, the idea of holding the door for a young lady – or even the entire concept of a lady – may be somehow less than archaic.

I expect you to be chivalrous anyway. But before you go looking up notions of classical chivalry, performing heroic deeds and penning epic poems (don’t get me wrong here: please write an epic poem), let me clarify what I mean. To me, chivalry is not about how men ought to treat women. It’s about how men should treat everybody. Don’t hold the door for someone because you think they’re weak, or because they’re lacking without your intervention. Hold the door because you consider them valuable, and because you want your mark on their lives to be a positive and helpful one. As soon as your behavior towards a person is more centered on yourself than on them, you can no longer consider yourself a chivalrous man.

It’s easy to identify a chivalrous man: he is someone who puts the needs of others in front of himself. (In Christian terms, he is someone actively aspiring to Christlikeness.)

Guidelines covering behavior are challenging to lay out because you can never cover every contingency. And on top of that, your thoughtful behavior at home could be deeply offensive to someone in another culture with different norms and mores. And that’s what makes defining chivalry as a checklist of “Dos and Don’ts” so problematic. Instead, if we see it as 1) considering others (and by others I mean whoever happens to be in your immediate vicinity) to be more valuable than yourself, and 2) treating them with that consideration, you will already have most of the information you’ll need in order to act chivalrously. (Also, this attitude will cut down on your susceptibility to road rage rather significantly.)

Virtually everyone likes to be made to feel important. So if you’re given the chance, do it. Stop overcomplicating things – yes, I know, it runs in the family.

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7 thoughts on “What I Would Tell My Son About Chivalry

  1. Your definition of chivalry seems to be what is expected of everyone, not just men, which leads me to a few quick questions on your thoughts:
    1. Does chivalry apply only to men?
    2. If not, should it look the same for both men and women?
    3. If not, how does it differ?

    I always enjoy reading your blog, Steve. Thanks for writing.

    • Thanks for the question, Katie!
      I think that chivalry — especially as I see it — should apply equally to men and women. If a woman holds the door for me, I think it’s incredibly rude to not gratefully walk through it. I can’t think of any reason off the top of my head why it would be any different. I only wrote it to an imaginary male because it is socially seen as a “manly” virtue. But like my post on modesty, it shouldn’t be something practiced by only one gender.

  2. Great thoughts on this topic, and the preceding post on modesty. I especially like what you said about how chivalry might look different in different cultures…and the idea that it applies to both genders certainly resonates with me. What these two points say to me is that to be chivalrous is to be a person who is always seeking to learn about others – to truly understand them. You can’t be chivalrous if you don’t truly understand how another person likes to be encouraged or if you only encourage others in things that would encourage you – it’s the same with the concept of suffering. It’s difficult to grieve with others and offer comfort if you only think of it from your own point of view. Love it Steven Macks. Love it. Thanks for not just thinking on the surface.

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