The Everyday Ethics of Chivalry

Scott Farrell comments:

This article originally appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune after the reporter interviewed me about my participation in the 2006 production of Camelot. It is a nice reminder of how simple and effective “everyday chivalry” can be.

sandi_dolbeeI got flipped off the other day. Maybe I was following too closely, because the driver ahead of me hit his brakes, glared into the rearview mirror and then gave me an emphatic one-gun salute. He did it with such athletic precision that I figured he had a lot of practice.

This act of motor madness made me think of the Middle Ages, when wrath was all the rage. What with the Inquisition and the Crusades, it definitely wasn’t a Good Conduct Medal moment in history.

And that made me think of Scott Farrell, whose home is decorated in medieval knicknacks. There are axes and helmets and suits of armor, which he actually wears. But it’s not the violence that Scott loves about those centuries. It’s the birth of a code of conduct called chivalry, a moral compass that he argues can point us in the right direction even today.

I first met Scott three years ago, when he told me about his quest to instill in people the seven “knightly virtues” he believes are rooted in chivalry: courage, justice, mercy, generosity, faith, nobility and hope.

He’s 41 now and remains a true believer in the ethics of everyday chivalry. His most recent audience: the cast of “Camelot,” which is rehearsing for July performances at the Poway Center for Performing Arts. Scott, by the way, is playing King Arthur.

He said he’s seen the result of his cast lectures in little things, like how they help each other put up chairs after rehearsal or lend a hand passing out scripts or applaud others after scenes.

How we treat each other isn’t rocket science. The unglamorous reality is that most of us lead lives void of the melodrama of Wisteria Lane. We know what Ken Lay and Duke Cunningham did was wrong. Instead, ethicists will tell you that it’s the little things that define us. Our personal responses to ordinary moments become the building blocks of our character.

So I asked Scott about the car incident. What would King Arthur do?

“Whether in the car in front or the car behind, he would realize we don’t need to turn an incident like this into a vendetta,” Scott said. “Wave and smile and hope that things get better for the other person.”

Maybe chivalry could help keep that guy’s middle finger down — and my own hand off the horn.

© 2009 Sandi Dolbee

About the Author: Sandi Dolbee is the ethics and religion reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune. This article originally appeared in the June 24, 2006 edition of that paper in the weekly department, Everyday Ethics.