Chivalry is defined as “medieval religious, moral, and social code,” but in its contemporary usage it typically refers to the social niceties those that people of privilege—whether it is physical strength, intellectual or physical capital, social standing, or a platform from which to exert influence—extend to those without those same advantages. True chivalry comes from the wherewithal to be the best parts of yourself for the least advantaged people at times that are inopportune or inconvenient to yourself.
One of the last great American duelists who was known for both his martial ability and gentlemanly disposition, Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery, began his treatise on Victorian self-defense tactics with a passage on chivalry:
“Chivalry was the brightest light of the middle ages, softening its rough manners, dedicating strength and valor to the service of justice and truth, and can never be sufficiently praised… Chivalry molded them into “gentlemen” as we now call them, and only gave way at last to civilization… Physically they produced graceful and vigorous bodies: mentally they tended to courage, generosity, and truth.” -Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery
2017 has been a real doozy for the world, with decades old assault and harassment cases thankfully coming to light juxtaposed with the United States being led by a man who not only brags about sexually assaulting woman, but also has shown even further weakness of character by rescinding his statements in which he took responsibility for his actions.
Amid this awakening, while also looking to the new year, you may be asking yourself, “how can I be chivalrous in ways that are progressive and will better the lives of those less privileged? How can I be chivalrous toward women while simultaneously respecting their autonomy and ability, avoiding white knight syndrome?” The short answer is chivalry with active listening to those around you whom you perceive as in need or marginalized.
COURAGE: WITH COMPASSION AND RADICAL VULNERABILITY
Have the courage to create space for others to speak. If you notice a male colleague speaking over or taking credit for the ideas of a female colleague, have the compassion to use your voice to calmly refocus the conversation and reattribute credit to where it’s due. Not only is it right, but in acting as an ally you are also proving to others that you are sharp, attentive, and can be trusted to be respectful of others’ intellectual efforts as well.
Have the courage to talk to your male friends when they are disrespectful to others, inhabit spaces in a manner that is uncomfortable to others, or cross boundaries physically with women—even in jest. Have the compassion to sit with them and intellectualize their transgressions in a way that they are able to hear and the courage to stick to your ideals and beliefs, even when they are not well received.
Should someone make a joke in which rape or race is the subject matter and the punchline further marginalizes an already marginalized subject, have the courage not to laugh. Have the courage to ask them to explain the joke to you. Have the compassion to explain to your friend that you don’t perceive humor at the expense of real or imagined victims.
When you recognize an inequality, and feel called to change it, remember: the world doesn’t necessarily need any more brute force to heal the state of it. Often brute force and violence can’t accomplish anything but adding further destruction into an already destructive world. The world needs more men who are brave enough to be vulnerable. Even small actions of extreme vulnerability or creative resistance can be impactful. Don’t shame the tears or emotions felt by yourself or others. Stay connected to your emotions, allowing yourself to feel them all without acting upon them. When you perceive inequities, hold yourself accountable and be vocal. Perhaps find the farce in double standards, and find a way to hold yourself to them to highlight the absurdity.
GENEROSITY: A BALANCE OF HUMILITY AND PRIDE
Have the humility to contribute to the maintenance of shared spaces in your work environment so you can take pride in having pleasant meeting rooms, lobbies, and other spaces when visitors come to your facilities. Often the work of cleaning and organizing such spaces is disproportionately given to or taken on by women, while men of the same rank generally do not. Take pride in having an impeccable workspace around you. Demonstrate your humility and respect for others’ time by maintaining your community, so your co-workers can show up fully in their primary functions in the workplace and not be burdened by your lack of tidiness. If you are unaware of how to do such work, it is privilege that has allowed you to hang onto this incompetence. Perhaps consider 2018 as an opportunity to improve your skills in these areas, making yourself more capable of being self-reliant and able to contribute to your communities. You may enjoy developing a skill you didn’t know you had. Servant leadership earns the respect of those around you and also provides the advantage of being closer to those of a lower rank during the actual day to day operations and holding a more nuanced understanding of day to day operations in your enterprise.
TRUTH: WHY MAKE IT MORE MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT?
Leave all bullshitting—presidential or otherwise—in 2017. Your relationship and acceptance of the truth is synonymous with your relationship and acceptance of yourself. Keep an eye on statistics of inequalities in income, education, and incarceration rates, and when faced with the truth, believe it. Believe the stories of victims, believe their visceral and lived experiences. When faced with an aggressor, remember that hurt people hurt people hurt people, and be brave enough to stand unavenged and break that cycle.
The more deeply you understand yourself, the better you can understand what you have already healed in yourself and what might necessitate further healing. Be as open as your heart will allow with others about your healing journey. There are so many people too afraid or ashamed to even admit to themselves that they hold pain or self-defeating habits that need to be healed that they aren’t able to start working on even the surface level of their mental, physical, philosophical, and emotional wounds. You can only offer the world the same healing that you have already given yourself, and your chivalry towards the world must start with the chivalry of accepting yourself.
As you settle in for the holidays and turn your gaze towards the New Year, perhaps consider a resolution of redefining knightly chivalry, making it modern and yours as you keep yourself open to use the ways in which you can utilize your privilege to help those who are not as well situated as you are. Dedicate yourself to help improve and heal the world in 2018. Someone has got to do it, and why not us? Here and now.
Nancy Cantine is a New York City based movement specialist, anatomy nerd, ex-ballerina, Yin and Vinyasa yoga teacher, and currently holds AAC rank in the Society of American Fight Directors in addition to her writing endeavors. She is tiger mom to a Siamese cat. Her work can be found online at nancycantine.com.