My parents were not people of means when I was young. We lived on the small salary of an enlisted soldier until my mother re-entered the workforce when I was about 8 years old. My sisters, brother, and I never had clothing from a boutique or even an upscale department store. The only cars we had were at least 12 years old until I was in high school.
Although we never attended the junior cotillion, we still had good manners! We were taught to be respectful and polite to those around us and if we didn’t, we were punished.
To this day I still address my mother, and other women older than me, as “ma’am” and my father, and other men older than me, as “sir.” Nothing else even enters my mind.
I’ve also worked hard to train up my children, and other children in my care, to be respectful and polite to others as well. When I approach a door and my sons, husband, or another gentleman, is nearby, I don’t even extend my arm to grab for it. By stepping out of the way, I provide them with an opportunity to be chivalrous and open it. If it’s my sons or husband, I promise I will stand there all day until they open the door – and they will not like it if they wait too long to do it. So, I guess, chivalry is alive in my family.
Where it is NOT alive is in social settings. I’ve attended wedding receptions and watched grooms walk off and leave their new bride, fussing with her long gown and struggling not to trip over it (when I direct a wedding, I never let this happen; I train grooms during the planning process on how to walk beside and with his bride and heaven help the groom who doesn’t). At dinner parties one guest will often dominate the conversation while others never get a word in the mix. At large dinner events, gentlemen are expected to seat the woman to their right before they take their own seat.
Often people will use the excuse that they don’t know the rules of etiquette. While this may be in the same category as chivalry, it’s not the same. The rules of etiquette were not designed to separate the upper class from the lower class. They were designed to put everyone on a level field. When everyone knows that you use the fork on the outside for the first course, it doesn’t matter how much money you make, you can fit in fine at even the fanciest parties.
But good manners and chivalry are different. They are a matter of the heart. In order to be chivalrous, you must have a genuine respect for other people, whether or not you know them. You must purpose in your heart to treat people with honor until and unless they give you a reason to stop.
We don’t do this! Not any more! And it shows!
I recently was at a dance night at a local studio, one in which most of the attendees knew one another. They were familiar with one another’s skill level, too. Even though there were several more women than men, there were still enough for most of the women to be dancing at least once every 2-4 songs.
Alas, that was not the case. I watched one man ask a lady to dance twice in the first hour while asking another woman sitting right next to her not even once. I saw one woman get asked repeatedly to dance by several different men, while the woman sitting next to her only danced 4 times in one hour. When this woman left the dance early, I was not surprised. Sad, but not surprised. I can imagine how her feelings must have been hurt, especially since she was one of the better dancers in the room.
When we talked later I learned that this was not the first time she had had this experience. She is often not picked. When asked why, she said she didn’t know. She has worked so hard to be a competent dancer. She dresses nicely and is reasonably attractive. She is one of the most polite people I’ve ever known.
Now she is considering giving up dancing. Chivalry in that place is dead. Unfortunately, it has killed one heart, too.
Actions have outcomes.