A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Growing up in the Southern U.S. in the Sixties, my parents always instructed me to be a little gentleman. It meant to be polite, kind, noble of sorts, well dressed, and above all, not a ruffian. We were to treat young ladies as such and always defer to Southern gallantry in our social interactions. It seemed easy to me, as I was a pretty quiet, reserved boy who observed these stately protocols without much effort. Nevertheless, it was what was expected of me, and I delivered.
When I hear this term today, my framework for this chivalric ideal has shifted over the years. It seems somewhat stuffy and dated now, and there appears to be some confusion about what females expect from men these days, where politeness and good manners are concerned, like holding doors open, etc.
Now, this article is not a review of Emily Post etiquette but rather to examine a fundamental set of traits we once societally expected that men of good manners and good standing should exhibit. It is a code of honor of how men should behave and conduct themselves in public. Yes, it's old-fashioned, but let's see if we can update this a bit and modify it to fit nicely into a new outline model of masculinity with some HSP fine-tuning.
What of the word, gentle?
The origin of the term gentlemen comes from two separate roots, from the Latin, Gentilis meaning to be from a good family or tribe, which might explain its use in describing those of noble birth. The word man comes from Old English mann, certainly Germanic before, describing a human being, male or female, later settling into mainly about males.
An apt description of a gentleman came from the Reverend John R. Vernon in 1869, which states, "[The Gentleman] is always truthful and sincere; will not agree for the sake of complaisance or out of weakness; will not pass over that of which he disapproves. He has a clear soul, and a fearless, straightforward tongue. On the other hand, he is not blunt and rude. His truth is courteous; his courtesy, truthful; never a humbug, yet, where he truthfully can, he prefers to say pleasant things. [The Rev. John R. Vernon, "The Grand Old Name of Gentleman," in Contemporary Review, vol. XI, May-August 1869]
By that time, days of fighting knights and rescuing damsels in distress was more of the stuff of legend, and most gentlemen had settled into lives of the landed gentry, certainly a gentler, safer lifestyle. Nevertheless, this notion of good breeding always lingered in the background. Good breeding was supposed to produce good behavior; at least, that was the ideal.
The history of chivalric behavior in men
Chivalry was a code of behavior that formed during the 1100 and 1200s in Europe. It largely originates from the Carolingian Empire and the period of romanticizing soldiers and cavalrymen. The term's etymology refers to the Old French, chevalerie, or horse soldiery. Chivalry was heavily weighted with Christian ideals and warrior attributes that signaled bravery and prowess. Much of the code was about sacrifice, obligation, honor, and duty to serve and protect. Over time it is easy to see that the gallantry and chivalric deeds became highly romanticized. The reality of the brutality and fighting was softened with tales of honor and noble largesse.
In modern times, chivalry morphed into gallantry, making it seem quaint and old-fashioned. Likewise, the ideals of protecting "fragile" women lost favor. Modern feminism and the notion of being a gentleman seem to have vanished with our modern shift in gender roles and expectations. But should we throw out the noble ideals of gentlemanly behavior? Is there still something worth salvaging here?
What attributes should be assigned to a modern gentleman?
If we were to morph the bones of gentlemanly conduct, what would we keep and what we discard? The shift away from combative arts to more cooperative behaviors might inform which attributes would be best to move forward. Instead of simple honor, obligation, protection, and warrior vices, perhaps we should replace them with characteristics like passion, strength (physical, emotional, and mental), wisdom, integrity, confidence, humility, compassion, empathy, creativity, and dare I say it? Sensitivity.
These qualities are noble and often seen in ancient religious texts as virtues. These are traits that all men should aspire to. In fact, all humans should aspire to these. Many of these characteristics are normal and native to highly sensitive people. We HSPs have a natural, gentle nature. This is not a weakness or frailty but a thoughtful and contemplative style of living. Not reckless, like blind drunk passion, but purposeful, maybe meted and coaxed from yet tapped spontaneity.
If we model a new masculinity
With this as a new framework, we could model a contemporary masculinity. A true gentle man identity that would be fitting for a world that needs kindness and a good measure of gentleness. A gentle hand is a steady hand, a hand that can guide, point to new horizons, and extend to help others.
We need not lose our maleness, our distinctive masculine drive. We simply need to tame the wildness. We need not forsake our bravery to move forward. We merely need to show courage's new face. We need not reject the instinct to protect. We simply need to use our protection wisely. We need not abandon our yang energy, the masculine; we simply must remember the yin energy (feminine) that resides in all of us.
Being gentlemen allows us to be "gentle men," men of good standing, of good hearts of wise thought and purposeful action with impeccable intent.
Let's bring the term gentle man into the twenty-first century and rebrand and reclaim it to reflect our times. It's no longer a term of advantage and privilege but one of service and humility.
Please comment with your thoughts.
Bill Allen currently lives in Lutz, Florida. He previously lived in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.