A regular column by Judith Martin (aka "Miss Manners") appears in the local newspaper. It often is devoted to lightweight issues of etiquette. But the latest Sunday installment (2001 Sep 30), titled "Back When Vices Weren't Virtues", takes on a much larger theme. Martin points out that our ancestors were morally no different than we are: "... hardly more chaste or less selfish, more temperate or less envious, more circumspect or less rapacious --- once you adjust the statistics for their more limited opportunities and lack of air conditioning." (^_^)

The key change between then and now? In past ages, Martin suggests, people tried (at least some of them, at least in public, at least some of the time) to appear modest, discreet, dignified, humble, and loyal. They didn't always live up to their virtuous ideals, of course. But they did set good examples.

Judith Martin's comments remind me of John Henry Newman's 1852 "Definition of a Gentleman" (see Cardinal Newman). Newman's archetypal gentleman is tolerant ... patient ... helpful ... and above all, kind. In the limit, a gentleman (of any sex) becomes invisible --- a forgotten part of the landscape, around whom things are magically more comfortable, more civilized, nicer.

A hopeful fantasy: perhaps by pretending to be better than we are, we can become better than we were?

TopicLife - 2001-10-04

Known as living up to one's expectations. The expectations pull us by just being there. We are what we think. ... -- Bo Leuf

Another definition of gentleman - "someone who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally."

(correlates: NaturalAristocracy, ByDesign, NoGlory, ...)