Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Gentleman or Jerk?

Part 1

Dear Former Student,

I have failed you, and the world through you. I was given the chance to make a lasting impact upon your life, and I did not succeed. As of late, I have seen you interacting with people online and realize something profoundly sad to me: you sat through two years of my classes at the high school and never learned how to be a gentleman. You are rude, insulting, and prone to innuendo in your dealings with others. In short, you act like a jerk. Not a gentleman. A jerk.

I didn't say you ARE a jerk. But I see you acting like one and it’s a cause of concern to me.

I know, I don’t teach etiquette. I’m a music teacher. But art and etiquette are closely related. They are both about beauty. And beautiful behavior ought to be the complement of and accent to beautiful music.

Moreover, I owe a debt to my mentor Phil Clark, a brilliant and compassionate economics teacher who drilled into me these important words: “Your job as a teacher is to civilize your students. Failure in this voids every other success.” Well, he didn’t say it exactly like that. After all, he taught economics, not English. Instead, he drew it in a graph with angles and quadrants and curves on the back of a napkin at Foster’s, our favorite after-school haunt. And he left me with a certain hope that I would live to see the day when even drummers under my tutelage would know how to behave in public. And yes, that’s a high expectation.

Well, dear student, you have become to me the evidence of my failure. In the course of teaching you music, I did not manage to convey to you the art of being a decent human. I am ashamed that a student of mine would be so publicly heartless, devoid of concern for others, and focused on self-gratification.

Therefore, given the sheer magnitude of my failure, and the Christian ethic I personally embrace, I am going to make amends. I feel the need, late as it may seem, to teach you this art, or try anyway. I hope you will pay attention as I do so. I am going to offer you a course of instruction on being a gentleman. I will conduct this class here on my blog. I devote this space for the next several posts to the topic of what it means to be a gentleman.

I promise I will not name you. I will leave your identity a secret. Readers may make their guesses, but the only clues about you have already been supplied: you post online, you are a former student of mine, and you are male.

I will offer another promise as well. Should you read all my posts and then privately admit to me your identity – accurately guessing I’m talking about YOU – and if you agree to make some severe changes, I will complete this class with you in person, and we will celebrate your shedding of the scales of arrogance and impertinence with a dinner at a first class restaurant. I will pay for you and your date, and my wife and I will host your entrance into polite society. I am as confident as Henry Higgins that, once I am through, you will have the ability to actually secure a date with a member of the opposite sex. I don’t believe you currently possess that skill; hence your attention to this class would do you well.

Should you instead choose to remain firmly planted in the “Jerk” column, I will mourn for your soul and pray heartily for the people you continue to offend.

Before I begin the actual lessons, I want to leave you with a foundational thought. I assume that your rudeness flows in part from “Reputation Apathy.” You have bought the lie that “What other people think about me doesn’t matter.” So let’s set the record straight. There are noble reasons to disregard the opinions of others. And there are ignoble reasons. I bet yours are ignoble, and that’s not a good thing.

On the good side, someday, you may bravely stand for what others oppose; or you will oppose what others promote. You will make your choice on what you believe is right, virtuous, moral, and good, and you will willingly suffer whatever consequences come as a result. That is a noble disregard for the opinions of others based on the dictates of your own conscience. It’s a good thing, as long as your disposition remains charitable to all.

But maybe this won’t happen? Maybe you will spend your life farting in public because you don’t care what people think of you? You will neglect other areas of hygiene, courtesy, fashion, and scent; the people in your company will find you and your humor piggish and moronic. Your apathy about your own reputation will be an ignoble excuse to do whatever you please without concern for those around you. It will be the mantra of a self-absorbed jerk who gathers to himself others of like spirit, but no true friends.

Which will it be? Noble? Or not?

Certainly you should care whether or not your boss thinks you can be trusted? Your neighbor thinks you are safe? The woman seated across the table thinks you are attractive? The police officer thinks you are telling the truth? You ought to be greatly concerned about your reputation when it relates to your character and your honor.

Stop thinking the opinions of others never matter. Sometimes, and at very important times, they do.

If you have read this with a measure of keen observation, you will note that I seem a little arrogant myself, making assumptions about you and disdaining your bad behavior. I may even sound like I think highly of myself. I can assure you of three things, all of which, I believe, are affirmations of every true gentleman.

1.       I am arrogant. I mean this. I see it in myself.
2.       I loathe this about myself. I condemn it. I see it not as a virtue to be praised, but a vice to be defeated. A true gentleman makes NO claims of humility; he recognizes his propensity for pride and selfishness and strives to conquer each one for the sake of his love for others.
3.       Most of the transgressions I will expose as supremely “ungentlemanly” are sins I have committed, and lessons I have learned through my own faults and the harm I have caused others.

I write not from a place of superiority, but of genuine contrition, and the desire to protect you, dear student, from the follies others have endured in me.

Stick with me, young man, on this little adventure of chivalry. As a result of becoming a true gentleman, you will enjoy wider friendships, broader experiences, greater opportunities, and significant successes. I can guarantee it.