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chivalry ain't dead
but it's on life support
by dan gonzalez

Ah, the days of high romance, the good old days, when men were men, and monsters were all too real. When fights were fair, and rogues were prosecuted. When women were property, locked up in chastity belts, and...

Okay, maybe they weren't so good for everybody. And maybe chivalry is quite chauvinistic in its inception.

But even hypocrites can possess virtue, and scholars over time have identified many of them. At first, in the old romances, they were celebrated. Later, after the dark ages, guys like Shakespeare and Cervantes ably charted the beginning of their demise in more modern societies.

Nowadays, they are considered vestiges of antiquity, ideals of primitive minds, instructive but only so in the equivalent of psychological post-mortems. Is there no other use for chivalry in these darkening times?

This writer, sometimes a rogue, often a fool, and never very knightly in any case, has to believe that chivalry may still be of use. What better principles are there for facing the modern dilemma of existence? What better time then in a compromised democracy that requires constant interaction with others?

No better time, but how to start?

No one altogether agrees on a specific list of knightly virtues. They vary, depending on what tradition one reads, but I have distilled six that I think people in this great country could use to remedy, at least, some of our ills.

courage - We don't have to fight monsters, but there are dragons about. They may be mundane tasks, they may be personal sacrifices. They may be the day-to-day jobs we're burdened with but really don't enjoy. But we have to fight them, and courage, which is not the denial of fear but the ability to act in spite of it, is required. We must all be bold and dare to be great in the face of banality. Otherwise, greatness will ever elude us.

justice - We must know our place and be fair to others, since we are but grains of sand on an endless beach. We must hold ourselves to the highest standards we can conceive, thereby raising all standards. We must not love one another, it is not necessary, but we must respect one another. We must not criticise our co-workers or loved ones for transgressions we ourselves commit. Instead, we must cease doing them, thereby encouraging others to do the same.

mercy - We must be gracious in victory and never capitalize one the woes of the downtrodden. We must not advance ourselves at work or in home-life at the cost of another. We all have enemies of some kind, but if we embrace each one after the fight, we will all have one less the next go-around.

charity - The fruits of our success are ill-spent if completely dedicated to ourselves. We are all headed for the same dirt-nap in any case. We can only improve ourselves so much, and never to perfection, and the only improvement beyond that is to help improve others around us.

courtesy - We must know the limits of our own absurd existences. We must be aware how those limits are not enough to avoid interfering with others. It can be a simple as avoiding an unnecessary conflict to save time and energy, or as great as saving a life by driving properly (q.v. without a cell-phone) and paying attention. Courtesy mitigates false, unnecessary adversity.

faith - Secular or Sacred, we all must have it. Faith in our values, faith that doing the right thing is not always the first thing that comes to mind, and often not the easiest. Faith in those we've built relationships with, faith that others are doing the best they can. Faith in humankind, because without it, all is lost in the final analysis.

But can we use these with any practicality these days? I'll put myself to the test:

A few weeks ago, at a soccer game, a very discourteous parent was yelling loudly "Kick the ball in, come on, run!" over and over, somewhat angrily. It happens, but I lost my wits after 10 minutes of it and said "It's recreational soccer, for Christ's sakes!" I fairly ruined the guy's day, all he was doing was rooting for his daughter's team. Worse, I stooped to join him. Nothing gained, bad example set.

I've lost my faith in many things, politics and organized religion amongst them. I have particular disdain for socialists and fundamentalist Christians, and I do not trust many coworkers. Recently, I've lost a bit of faith in the techniques I use in my chosen discipline, I'm no longer sure my methods are top-of-the-line.

Often, I'll see someone fail and say, life isn't fair, you got what you earned. This is less than helpful. I never do enough charity, and of late, though I have had some courageous endeavors in my career, I am intimidated by my next steps, and cannot act. Worse, I don't even have the guts to quit smoking.

Yeah, my guns are rusty and I could use some help. But can cavalier values help?

With courage, I can forge through my next career step, insuring less chance of failure for my family, and perhaps helping my future co-workers to have a better work-life. With faith, I could perfect my methods and possibly help others at work. If I was truly bold, I could quit smoking and live longer and better. With mercy, my achievements will truly be my own, and I will not be insecure. With more charity, my community will be made better, and with more courtesy, I'll have better relationships with those in the community. With faith I'd know that all I'm doing isn't only for myself, and that good people like you readers aren't getting short-changed by my absurd existence.

Well, that wasn't bad, but I could do better. It's only a start. I'll have to think about chivalry a bit more. I'll have to more about my own shortcomings, and how to beat them. I'll have to think about others, and all of our place in things, and how to co-exist without harm and interference. That is, I think, true chivalry.

One problem, though: I can't do it alone, I'd be impaled on the first windmill I saw.

I need cohorts. So who's with me? Have at thee dragons, and to the mead hall!*

* brought to you by Erik Lars Myers


Maybe it's you, maybe it's Dan. Things aren't quite the way they should be. And now it seems Dan's peace of mind has come up for the bidding, and those that he respects and trusts must all have been just kidding. Dan's little world has lost control, but still it keeps on spinnin'...

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published: 2.29.08

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published: 7.7.04


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