Character In Need of A Renaissance: Is Chivalry Dead?
Updated: Mar 10
Is Chivalry dead? Not if Primerrily parents have anything to say about it! At Primerrily, we believe character is built by doing the little things -- over and over again. Thankfully, our little people thrive on repetition! Think this is just a few parents trying to make ourselves feel better about incessantly encouraging our kids even in the smallest of actions? Not so fast . . .
The man who delivered President Abraham Lincoln's eulogy agrees with us. American clergyman Phillips Brooks said, “Character may be manifested in the big moments, but it is made in the small ones.” Perhaps it was beholding the example of our 16th president, who persevered through many trials in his young life that inspired him to pen such words. In fact, Reverend Brooks employed the word "character" 33 times in Lincoln's eulogy (see below for an excerpt). In this article, we’ll talk about a facet of character: particularly, male character, and even more specifically, chivalry. We’ll share how chivalry -- “the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honor, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak” (thanks Dictionary.com) -- is most certainly not dead. In fact, chivalry can experience a renaissance in your home if you’re willing to show, question, and affirm your gentleman-in-training. Mothers of ladies-in-training are counting on you -- and so is America!
Character may be manifested in the big moments, but it is made in the small ones.”
Before he was the President-man on the right, Lincoln was the humble boy on the left.
Why is chivalry important? The fact that the title of this article intrigued you to click and read more is evidence in itself. We sense the cultural decline of chivalry. And at times when a good old-fashioned chivalrous gentleman attempts to revive it, some want to shut it down:
“. . . fast forward to my college reunion, also at Yale, and I was holding a door open for a girl who I think was an undergraduate who was working the reunions, and she stopped dead in her tracks and she looked at me and said, “patriarchy!” She accused me of patriarchy and wouldn’t go through the door. And we had this standoff for about a minute.”
The experience was so jarring for this dad, that it inspired him to include it in his satire novel, Campusland, about the absurdities of woke culture (author’s note: I admit I have not read the book; I choose to mention it to demonstrate the tremendous impact a brief encounter had on a person). The reality of it is truly sad, but if we can laugh about it in fiction or nonfiction form, then perhaps we’ll be happy warriors as we stand up against letting it bring us down.
This trend is not unique to the U.S., per this UK coverage of a faux-feminist ideology, which cites a claim that “Men who open doors for women are guilty of 'benevolent sexism. . . signs of 'unseen' sexism in society, according to the report.”
But could holding doors just be (gasp) plain old-fashioned kindness? When I hold a door for my elderly neighbor or someone in a wheelchair, I am guilty of discriminating based on age or disability?
Right now, America (and perhaps the world) could use less sign holding and more door opening. America needs fewer virtue signals on social media and more “good afternoons” as we walk past strangers. “Kid ears” don’t need to overhear pejorative gossip about “Can you believe…”; rather they need to hear more people saying, “thank you, ma’am.” So here are some simple ways we are working hard to keep chivalry alive -- showing and growing!
1. Model the basics
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about how my husband used Valentine’s Day to show our daughter how she deserves to be treated. As part of his teachable moment, he made her a Valentine’s Day card. I was further tickled when he led my son in this same craft for me -- and gave him a $20 bill so our boy could treat me to a mother-son date. Daddy counseled him in the basics: put a nice shirt on, open my door, pay for our ice cream cones, and ask me a question about myself. Some may choose to find these practices archaic and misogynistic, but Primerrily sees them as plain acts of kindness, fit for a 3-and-a-half-year old or a 35-year-old.
Ask your son: "Would you please put a nice shirt on, open the door, pay for the ice cream, and ask mama a question about herself?"
2. Speak chivalry into your boy -- and help him define what a gentleman is
Another way we teach our son manners, especially toward the opposite sex, is by speaking words of action into him. We say, “Son, you are a gentleman. Gentleman do ‘X.’” Of course, it helps to set a baseline of what actually IS a gentleman -- and I find it’s best to do that at a neutral time, maybe when you’re in the car or building with LEGOs. You might start by asking, “Hey bud, do you know what a gentleman is?” Listen for answers, or prompt with ideas like kind, honest, thoughtful, or respectful. Ask him if he can think of times when he’s seen a man act in those ways -- what actions did that man do to show he is “kind” or “honest,” etc.? Ask your son if he knows anyone he would call a gentleman.
In the case of learning to hold doors, we say, “Son, would you please show me what a gentleman you are and hold the door for mama?” If he does it, I tell him how helpful he’s been, how proud I am for the young man he is becoming, and how grateful I am. To be clear, that’s no exaggeration -- I’m usually holding four bags and a baby anyway! When he remembers to hold the door of his own accord, you can see his sweet cheeks fill with pride as strangers shower him with praise. How often do we see a toddler initiate holding a door in public?
Ask your son: “Would you please show me what a gentleman you are and hold the door for mama?”
3. Invoke chivalry even (and especially) when your boys misbehave
Speaking leadership into a child works well when he is misbehaving too. Lest you think my boy a perfect angel, allow me to assure you he is actually my greatest challenge at the moment. When he uses language or a tone we find disrespectful, instead of immediately reprimanding him, we respond with a question “Wow. Is that what a gentleman would say? I know you are a gentleman. Would you please try again?” I invoke the question to give him the chance to develop a virtue not discussed much today: agency, or in other words, self-control. Most of the time, the question gives him the pause he needs to reconsider his choice -- and the opportunity to win a compliment. Deep down, kids do want to do the right thing and make us proud. When my son corrects himself, I’m then able to say, “Honey, I’m really proud of the gentleman you are. Gentlemen aren’t perfect; they make mistakes, and when they do, they take responsibility for them and try again. You just did that. Good job!”
Ask your son: “Wow. Is that what a gentleman would say? I know you are a gentleman. Would you please try again?”
4. Focus on the goodness of your boy’s boyhood
When my son gets rough playing with his sisters, I try not to attack his impulse to show forth his strength (flexing our muscles is definitely becoming a thing) but rather to redirect it. I say, “Son, you’re a gentleman -- use your strength for good! How can you use your strength for good right now?” It might involve helping them carry their stuffed animals back to their rooms or bringing them a special treat that they all can share. Whatever the case, I invoke the question to help seed ownership and pride in his choice.
Ask your son: How can you use your strength for good right now?
5. Assume the best of your boy’s actions that you don't understand
The other day he and I had just exited a restroom at a restaurant, and we were standing in the hallway by the other restroom my mother and daughter were using. I asked him to escort me back to the table. He wouldn’t budge! A bit frustrated, I explained what "escort" meant. He still wouldn't move. I said, “Honey, a gentleman walks a lady back to the table.” With great respect he replied, “Mama, a gentleman waits for his girls.” He was waiting for the other two females in our party to finish before he escorted all of us back to the table. I was stunned. I was just about to reprimand him for not following my direction, and I wished I would have asked him "What are you thinking right now?" Thankfully he was able to verbalize the good thing he was trying to do for all the ladies involved -- and mama learned a lesson too!
Ask your son: "What are you thinking right now?"
Let’s be honest. Boys are up against a lot these days, and it can be difficult to know how to raise a boy who is confident in masculinity -- and not ashamed of it -- with all the men-bashing that is so popular. In Primerrily’s reflection on Hoover’s Bill of Right’s for Boys, we cite ethics philosopher Christine Hoff Sommers who explains how misguided policies and cultural trends are harming our young men. She blatantly says, “It’s a bad time to be a boy in America. . .” Well, not for Primerrily families, and we hope not for yours!
My son is still young, but I think these tiny tactics and habit-forming acts of excellence will help us stave off potential negative outside influences. As American philosopher, Will Durant, famously phrased the idea: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Our sons’ little acts make up their days -- and days turn into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, and years into character. Our trip back from the restroom -- the one in which my son waited for all of the women in his family -- spoke volumes not only to my mama’s heart, but also to my lady’s heart. All good things start small -- like sons and like character.
All good things start small -- like sons and like character.
Still reading? Wow; we're impressed! Here are the meditations of Phillips Brooks on the golden character of a boy who truly became a man among men:
Excerpt taken from the eulogy delivered by Reverend Phillips Brooks: "The life and death of Abraham Lincoln: A sermon preached at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia, Sunday morning, April 23, 1865."