Long considered the mark of a Southern gentleman, good manners and chivalry sadly seem to be losing ground.
Both ancient standing codes of human conduct, they have been reinterpreted through the ages as various cultures and situations necessitated. Manners, which were formalized during the 16th and 17th century in Western Europe, developed as practical actions that showed respect for oneself and one’s neighbor.
Chivalry stems from a knight’s code and originally incorporated social, religious and military standards. More philosophical in nature, chivalry emphasized honoring women and caring for the poor and defenseless, young and old.
From Europe, these traditions migrated to the New World and became entrenched in the South, where they are still a cultural symbol today. Some suggest their prevalence here was bolstered by the strong religious heritage in our region, as both align with biblical teachings.
In our modern society, critics disregard some as old-fashioned, pretentious or shallow, and in several instances they are right (e.g., greeting each other with a bow or curtsey is outdated). There are those expressions that are trite or synthetic, and like most things, in excess they can become unhealthy and stifling. However, the underlying principle of both is a powerful ideal that, when conveyed authentically, can reflect our best selves.
As a man matures, he comes to the realization that life is not just about himself – in fact, life is the richest when serving others. At their core, manners and chivalry are a reflection of this belief – that we are not alone, but part of a community, and therefore should be actively aware and considerate of our fellow man (and woman).
Grounded in the right virtues – respect, integrity, kindness, humility – these traditions act as social glue, creating a bond that strengthens and encourages our society, furthering unity and civility – both telling measures of our culture’s health.