I read recently an article that claimed that chivalry is dead and it got me thinking for a while, it may not be dead but like nostalgia, it definitely ain’t what used to be.
Chivalry emerged from the lawless times of post-Roman Britain and became a code of conduct by which Knights sought to live in the name of God and of the King. In times when there was no stronger authority that the lance or sword, it brought limits to what was acceptable conduct.
Chivalry covered all areas of life and included such important concepts as truth, honour, justice, valour, strength of mind and body, generosity, humility, loyalty, compassion and courtesy and nobility, not in the sense of being snobbish but of upholding your ideals. Even today, modern Knighthoods are issued by the Queen to business leaders, world beating sport stars of the past , old Generals and life-long charity workers and this gives an idea of the sort of all-round role of behaviour the medieval Knight aimed for.
Chivalry might sound old fashioned but for centuries but these knights realised that with power and freedom come responsibility and ethics. The first major and possibly most important example of this is in the Magna Carta signed between bad old King John and the English barons which limited the power of the King and granted rights to everyone else and these ideas spread throughout the world, not least into the Declarations made by the founding fathers of America.
As well these high minded principles, chivalry influenced every day in Britain such as the concept of the rules of war and treatment of prisoners to fair play in sport. The game of cricket is famous for players to declare themselves out when the umpire (referee) doesn’t spot an infringement. Hence the English saying when something unfair happens of “It’s just not cricket”!
In society, knights turned into being a gentlemen and dames into ladies. Of course these days even the basics such as standing in line and being honest isn’t what it used to be. Young men now largely look up to heavy drinking, thuggish and incoherent role-models and as the Knights realised if the strongest don’t have any self control then everyone in society suffers.
If men themselves have let themselves down, some responsibility must also come from women. They should demand better from men rather than flocking round the baddest dude on the block. If they don’t expect better then 90% of men aren’t going to act better.
I always try to act if not chivalrous then in the more recent code of behaviour which i developed into, a gentleman. While I may not have a cloak to lay on the floor to cover a muddy path, I do like to offer my coat if a lady is cold or wet. There aren’t many dragons around either but walking down the street men should remember to walk on the roadside not just to protect their ladies from splashes but from cars as well.
Giving up seats on public transportation is something I like to do but it seems less and less the fashion these days even to give a seat for a pregnant lady, a war veteran or pensioner. Some of these things are surely just being polite such as offering to carry a bag for an old man or lady or holding the door open for anyone.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate good manners or the old ideas of chivalry and only once did a stranger complain. I was 16 and held the door open for a lady who promptly scolded me telling me she didn’t need me to hold the door open for her. Shame on her, she was a good 20 years older than me and if she thought I was doing it for ulterior motives then she very much wasn’t my type. Happily I responded “I’m not holding the door for you,I’m doing it for me”.
Mostly though I am lavished with praise and thanks and I end up striking conversations with people I never would have met. People can just tell if you are well brought up and nice, I remember just 2 or 3 years ago I met a very elderly lady at the post office. She had a large box and would have to walk a mile back to the bus stop and then walk again once she got off the bus. It wasn’t a nice part of town and I felt sorry for her and I know my own grandma would have been thrilled to receive such kindness so I offered her a lift home. I didn’t expect her to accept at all. Surely it would be crazy for an 80 year old lady to get in the car of a young man in 2010. Maybe as I held the door open for her to go into the building and let her queue first she got the idea I wasn’t going to kidnap her and bury her in the woods. We talked all the way to her house and she was ever so grateful, she even offered me in for a cup of tea but of course I declined as I was busy and didn’t want to impose. Perhaps in times past my predecessors would have accepted… I must try harder I suppose or at least try harder to be less busy as otherwise I would have accepted.
If I do something nice for a lady, it is not because I think she is in anyway inferior to me or needs protecting but I do it to help and be nice and make the world that little bit more pleasant but also for myself. Surely that is the point of any society around the world that the stronger help those who need it. I hope that in 40 years time and I am waiting for the bus, young people will still queue in a line and maybe some of them will be gracious enough to let me go first or give me a seat whether they be a man or woman. Anything else just wouldn’t be cricket.