Convenience, Corruption and Chivalry

Integrity is the greatest quality of a hero

When we talk of knights in shining armor in the workplace, there are a few vocations that come naturally to mind. You can easily see how soldiers, police officers, firefighters or rescue workers need knightly courage and strength in the discharge of their duties. Even doctors and lawyers occasionally put themselves in harm’s way to fight for the safety and welfare of others. But what about the people whose daily tasks require less adventure and more routine; less “guns and sirens” and more “lunch boxes and time clocks”? For someone with a workaday, run-of-the-mill job, isn’t a code of honor, like the Code of Chivalry, a needless inconvenience?

To answer that question, let’s take a look back into the not-too-distant past at an event that highlights what happens when people with quiet, behind-the-scenes jobs set aside their sense of duty, responsibility and chivalry in favor of convenience.

In 1903 a brand-new playhouse opened in Chicago, Illinois, just in time for Christmas. Its premier production, Mr. Blue Beard Jr., was aimed at the thousands of local families who were enjoying the holiday. Theater management and city officials assured parents that the new facility featured state-of-the-art safety equipment and modern designs, making it “absolutely fireproof.”

IroquoisYet on December 30, just five weeks after the Iroquois Theater’s grand opening, fire broke out backstage during the play’s second act. The blaze spread with frightening swiftness, the performers and audience panicked, and within minutes more than 600 people had been killed by smoke, fire and trampling. The Iroquois Theater disaster became (and remains) the second most fatal fire in U.S. history. (The picture, right, was taken just hours after the fire was finally extinguished.)

Months of investigation revealed the causes behind this fiery tragedy in an “absolutely fireproof” building: laziness and corruption. Builders used substandard materials in construction, owners falsified documents, and public officials accepted bribes for “looking the other way” when the theater didn’t meet code. The Eastland Memorial Society reports that the disaster was due to “unbelievable laxity on the part of the theater and city officials charged with public safety.”

Architects, suppliers, carpenters, decorators, bankers, inspectors and others with quiet, everyday jobs may not conclude their days covered in blood and sweat, but they can (and should) still be knights in shining armor. Chivalry is more than strength and bravery; it is also found in those who respect the law, honor their commitments and refuse to compromise their high ethical standards — even when nobody else is watching.

No matter how you earn a living, there is probably someone who depends upon you to be honest, diligent and caring in what you do. Living by the Code of Chivalry in the workplace is often inconvenient, but the story of the Iroquois Theater disaster is a reminder that knightly virtues such as faith, nobility and justice can be matters of life and death. Customers, clients, students, patients, tenants and patrons of all types want to know that there are knights in shining armor working quietly behind the scenes to keep them safe in all aspects of their lives.

To learn more about the tragic Iroquois Theater Disaster, visit the memorial page of the Eastland Memorial Society.

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Scott Farrell

About Scott Farrell

Scott Farrell is the founder and director of the Chivalry Today Educational Program. He gives dozens of live presentations on the history and values of chivalry every year at schools, libraries, and civic and professional organizations throughout Southern California. His thoughts and conversations on chivalry can be heard worldwide every month on his Chivalry Today Podcast. His essays on the code of chivalry have appeared in numerous magazines and books, including Living A Life Of Value (Jason Merchey, editor) and the forthcoming Martial Arts And Philosophy (Damon Young, editor).