“Chivalry Is Dead!” It’s a proclamation I hear frequently (as you might imagine) from parents and teachers bemoaning the lack of what they perceive as “chivalrous manners” in today’s young folks. With Mother’s Day just past, there were several articles and blogs lamenting the fact that young men are falling down on the chivalry job by not pulling out chairs, bringing flowers or opening doors for their mommies – and therefore, by extension, not being prepared to offer this sort of treatment to their prospective dating partners and spouses.
It’s true – we want to (and need to) teach good, respectful manners to kids. That is (as those ignorant, illiterate medieval knights knew) a way of getting children to look outside themselves and see the rewards of doing something nice for others. It is the antidote to the “it’s all about me” mentality.
But just because young men don’t stand when a lady enters the room, tip their hats or walk on the outside of the road, does that mean chivalry is dead? Actually … I think not. All that really means is that the social etiquette from another generation is falling by the wayside. Standing when a lady enters the room might have been practical when social gatherings took place in parlor rooms, or even when families entertained callers in their living rooms in the 50s and 60s. But today – how are you going to stand when a lady enters the room at a crowded Starbucks, or in an office full of cubicles?
The fact is – chivalry isn’t dead, it’s just changing to meet today’s needs. You can still find plenty of chivalry on the freeway, for example, when a driver lets another car merge graciously; in the supermarket, when a shopper finishes a cell phone conversation before speaking with the check-out clerk; or in the office, when someone stands to greet a client or visitor. (Yes, there are plenty of people who don’t do any or all of those – that doesn’t mean chivalry is dead … it just means people still aren’t perfect. That hasn’t changed since the Middle Ages.)
If you look for chivalry in the social customs of 50 years ago (or more) it will seem as dead as rotary phones, vinyl records and cars with tailfins. Chivalry evolves with the times.