Tuesday, December 4, 2018


It's not easy being a gentleman. I know this because I happen to be one. I say this without wanting to puff up my own ego (no gentleman would ever do such a thing!) but rather because it's in my blood and bones, as well as in my psyche. And truthfully I do not always live up to the expectations of others or myself. My behavior is all too often other than gentlemanly. But then, to compensate, I am subjected to pangs of guilt and shame!

This thought--confession?--occurs to me in the context of the death of former President George H. W. Bush, who I think was also a gentleman (we tend to recognize each other!), though of a different nationality and culture. I'm sure he also understood the predicament of being a gentleman. For one thing, it is easily mistaken for weakness. That impulse to defer, to give the appearance, at least, of humility even when one does not feel it, and to always put one's personal needs after those of others--those qualities can easily be abused by those who would treat you as a doormat.

The other, related difficulty is the ease with which this can actually happen, without vigilance and the kind of inner strength that does not need to be publicly asserted. The natural humility of the gentleman can all too easily degenerate into timidity and acquiescence--but then you're not a gentleman any more. You are a doormat.

It's a fine line to walk. Respect, decency, kindness, and compassion for those less fortunate are, in my view, the most admirable of human qualities, but also the most subject to abuse and scorn. They seem old-fashioned, rather quaint, in a world where cutthroat competitiveness and aggression have become the primary requisites of success.

I did not agree with George H. W. Bush on most matters of political philosophy and practice. But in retrospect I have no reason to doubt his integrity, his innate sense of duty and service, his unwavering desire to do the right thing for those he served--even when "the right thing" appeared to me to be the wrong one. It's a quality that is greatly missed in our world today. I fervently hope it is not lost to humanity forever.

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