“Excuse me. Were you waiting in line?” the British man asked outside the bathroom at the Revolver Bar in Seattle.
“Yes, I was, but it’s alright,” I said.
“No, it was rude of me to cut you off. Please know if I had seen you – or if I had known you were waiting – I would not have barged in,” he said. “It’s unacceptable behavior. I apologize.”
This 30-something Englishman had a point. Hearing him take accountability for an action – albeit an unintentional one – was both surprising and heartwarming.
Common decency? How refreshing.
When I sat down at a booth next to my friend, Drew, I shared this encounter, and he, too, was impressed.
“A gentleman?” he said. “They’re an endangered species.”
Drew lives in Brooklyn, where he said it’s less and less common to see acts of kindness. It’s more common in Central Montana, but it’s still fairly rare. Think about it: when was the last time you saw someone perform an act of kindness? And when was the last time you performed one yourself?
These are legitimate questions. The encounter I had with the gentleman took place last October and it still stands out. I’ve witnessed acts of kindness since, but how many times have I thought, “now that’s a gentleman.” What does it even mean to be a gentleman?
To help me understand what a gentleman is, I went to the book “How to be a Gentleman” by John Bridges, a gift from my father that answers the question eloquently.
“Being a gentleman has little to do with tying a tie or fumbling with the flatware,” Bridges writes. “Instead, it requires only a little logic, a bit of forethought and a great deal of consideration for others. It is not about complicated rules and convoluted instructions. It is about trying to make life easier for other people. It is about honestly and sincerely being a nice guy.”
This is just one of many examples in Bridges’ revised and expanded guide, which covers getting dressed, going to dinner, saying the right thing, giving a party, going to a party, going to the office and much more, including cell phone and language etiquette.
“A gentleman considers the weight of his words and the impression he is leaving,” Bridges writes. “He knows when to ignore his iPhone in favor of face-to-face conversation, and he understands that sometimes he should simply say nothing at all.”
Being a gentleman takes effort, discipline and – most importantly – intention. If you wake up every morning thinking, “I’m going to be a gentleman today” you’re far more likely to perform acts of kindness.
Also, don’t do it for yourself; do it for others. Just recently, at a Golden Eagles basketball game, a gentleman held his girlfriend’s coat for her to help her slip into on their way out the door. Was it necessary? No. Did it make her feel special? Absolutely.
That’s a big part of being a gentleman: please your significant other by performing acts of kindness for them regularly. Treat them the way you want to be treated. Treat them the way they deserve to be treated.
Although gentlemen may be more common here than in Brooklyn, it seems there aren’t as many as there were in previous generations.
Why is this?
According to Bridges, “life has changed a great deal… and gentlemen are now left on their own, almost at every turn. Cell phones are everywhere, barking out at us in airports, grocery stores and movie theatres. Unless a gentleman is an absolute Luddite, e-mail is a central part of his life. He must remind himself, at all times, to check up on his text messages. Written correspondence seems even more antiquated than before.”
Nevertheless, Bridges writes in 2012, “the desire for gentlemanliness persists.” Sadly, six years later, there isn’t just a desire – but a need – for the gentleman.
I admit I haven’t always been a gentleman, and I know there will be times I will struggle to be “gentlemanly,” but I will do my best to think of the British man at Revolver who went out of his way to apologize, I will think of the man at the game who helped his girlfriend with her coat and I will think of John Bridges’ words, which I’d like all the men reading this to keep in mind: “It truly is possible for a man to learn to be a gentleman if he has the direction he needs.”
Welcome the challenge, gentlemen.
(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)
Ten Eternal Truths of the Gentlemanly Life
By John Bridges
A gentleman says “please” and “thank you,” readily and often.
A gentleman does not disparage the beliefs of others – whether they relate to matters of faith, politics or sports teams.
A gentleman always carries a handkerchief, and is ready to lend it, especially to a weeping lady, should the need arise.
A gentleman never allows a door to slam in the face of another person – male or female, young or old, absolute stranger or longtime best friend.
A gentleman does not make jokes about race, religion, gender or sexual orientation; neither does he find such jokes amusing.
A gentleman knows how to stand in line and how to wait his turn.
A gentleman is always ready to offer a hearty handshake.
A gentleman keeps his leather shoes polished and his fingernails clean.
A gentleman admits when he is wrong.
A gentleman does not pick a fight.