Where Men Can Become Better Gentlemen

Origins: Fundamentals

Definition of a Gentleman

Look in a dictionary and you’ll find a definition, or list of definitions, similar to the ones below. These definitions provide an insight or guide as to the origins and thus intentions for usage of the term: Gentleman. A greater understanding can be gained if we look into these definitions in more detail, to see the root of the principles which may govern The Complete Gentleman:

Definition No. 1

A polite term or form of address for all men, irrespective of condition, as in the phrase "Ladies and Gentlemen", often used in addressing a collective group of men at an assembly etc.

The term “gentleman” originates from the Latin root of “Gentilis” - which means “belonging to a race”, and when coupled with “man”, becomes “belonging to a race of men”. So therefore it is an acceptable term to be applied to any male (and arguably, inclusive of females) - it suggests all men should be gentlemen.

Definition No. 2

A well born man; a man of good family; or a nobleman.

Often considered a stricter application of the Latin root is “Generosus” and was almost invariably used to refer to nobility. Maybe this was because only the nobles in a feudal system were considered able to be benevolent or generous - thus the term denoted a man of good family. The implication is all gentlemen are expected to be benevolent and generous.

The English term gentleman clearly shows it’s European roots as it equates with the French gentilhomme, Spanish hombre gentil and Italian gentiluomo - all meaning nobleman. It’s interesting to note the French phrase Noblesse Oblige – with nobility comes obligation. It specifies that those who possess Strength, Intelligence or Wealth are obliged to use these for the common good.

It highlights gentlemen have an obligation to serve and protect anyone weaker than themselves, a further extension to that of benevolence and generosity. It creates a man who shows respect and consideration for others, above the self.

Definition No. 3

A man of higher position than that of yeoman - a member of the “gentry”.

In Europe the gentry were a middle rank between the yeoman and the nobility. The term “gentry” originates from the French genterise (modern day gentelise) which indicated a class of nobleman. The term nobilis is quite ambiguous and can transform the word noble to meaning elevated either by rank or by personal qualities – hence the term enobled or enobling. Thus all gentlemen or gentry (including the nobility) are to be considered noble or at least enobled.

Definition No. 4

One who bears arms, but has no title.

In Europe the term gentry or gentleman was specifically applied only to those men “who bear arms” (Latin: qui arma gerit), but did not hold a title of nobility. In the Middle Ages these gentlemen were obliged, if requested, to fight for their feudal overlords - to defend against marauders to protect people (including royals, other nobles, farmers, peasants etc.) and property (including borders, land, buildings, farms, animals etc.). As such, they had the right to bear arms on the battlefield, including sword, chain mail, armor and shield – with their coat of arms displayed. Off the battlefield, the gentleman was expected to uphold civilized behavior through good manners and courtesy.

It is clear to see that a gentleman defends civilization both symbolically (through manners & courtesy) and practically (by standing up for what is right with words and defending this with his physical body – fighting, if necessary).

Definition No. 5

A civilized, refined, educated, well-bred, sensitive, gentle, kind or well mannered man.

Today a gentleman is frequently identified and recognized by outward signs: stylishly dressed, well spoken, versed in appropriate etiquette, knowledgeable, neatly groomed, good interpersonal skills, and even carries out good deeds. These are good and laudable attributes and sadly seem rarer now than ever.

The real question is what motivates someone to display these outward signs. It could be for selfish, dishonest or even criminal reasons. Whereas the true gentleman is motivated by good inward principles – the appearance is purely secondary (the “icing on the cake”). Wealth, breeding, position in society or lack of these things have no bearing on a gentleman. What counts are the forces inside him, which motivate him to do what he does, and determines the manner in which he does those things.

A Gentleman Summarized

From a dictionary definition we can gleam that a gentleman is a man who:

(i) Is generous and benevolent;

(ii) Serves and protects anyone weaker than themselves;

(iii) Possesses strength, intelligence and/or wealth and uses it for the common good;

(iv) Shows respect and consideration for others, above the self;

(v) Defends his country and civilization through words, deeds and with physical force if necessary; and

(vi) Is concerned with more than just an outward display but with living good principles which emulate from the inside out.

This provides a small glimpse into the world of a gentleman; the key aspects are:

Gentlemen are people with high ethical principles, working for the good of civilized mankind.

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