Who is a Gentleman?

November 12, 2006

by Karmayogi

There is no equivalent term for 'gentleman' in Tamil. A sage as a householder is known as sanror. Sanror is defined as one who has realised, and has become quiet as a result of that realisation. It is a quasi-religious term, whereas Gentleman is social term of psychological magnificence. It is a European term mostly attributed to the English aristocracy. It is said of the Englishman that he is straightforward which is in contrast to the Frenchman who is frank. The Englishman is a man of action while the Frenchman is one of thought. The stamp of a gentleman is honour. To refrain from causing pain is his outstanding endeavour. One cannot resort to lying if he ever yearns for the title of a gentleman. The gentleness of his soul makes his outer social behaviour one of a gentleman. I shall list several of his attributes as described by many, such as Charles Dickens. Cardinal Newman's long definitions are of special significance. Its full appreciation will emerge when we recollect what others we know in similar circumstances are prone to do.

  • He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him.
    It means he will readily help others without waiting for others to apply for help.
    His incapacity to inflict pain and readiness to help are both refined and accurate.
  • In giving, he behaves as one who is receiving.
  • He concurs with the movements of those around him rather than taking initiative.
  • Newman says a gentleman silently confers on others like an easy chair that removes fatigue or a fire that removes cold. He does not make his presence prominent while he serves.
  • A true gentleman avoids all statements that would jar on the sensitivity of others.
  • A clash of opinion, collision of feeling, an attitude of suspicion may thus jar on others.
    • He is tender towards the bashful.
    • He avoids topics that might irritate.
    • He does not thrust himself forward in conversation.
    • He is never wearisome.
    • He makes light of favours while he does them.
    • He never speaks of himself unless compelled.
    • He never defends himself by a retort.
    • Contention, he avoids.
    • He has no ears for slander or gossip.
    • He is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him.
    • He interprets everything for the best.
    • He is never mean or little in disputes.
    • He never mistakes personalities or sharp saying for arguments.
    • Nor does he insinuate evil which he does not spell out.
    • He treats his enemies as if one day they will turn into friends.
    • He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults.
    • He is too well employed to remember injuries.
    • Nor can he bear malice.
    • He is patient, forbearing and resigned on philosophic principles.
    • He submits to pain because it is inevitable.
    • He submits to bereavement because it is irreparable.
    • He submits to death because it is destiny.
    • When engaged in controversy he does not blunder as he is endowed with a disciplined intellect.

In our own homes, elders mostly answer to this description, especially ladies. More than saying the right thing, higher wisdom requires NOT to say the wrong thing. For those closely associated with the Kings of the earlier centuries, this knowledge of self-preservation has come out of prudence. To acquire it through culture is the outstanding trait of the human personality. To be a perfect gentleman is to be spiritually qualified as a householder. In the best sense of the word, gentlemanliness is spiritually awakened human life. There is no greater reward than to live as a gentleman.

A husband and wife were in an animated discussion about a family affair that was extremely confidential at their dinner table. Their friend walked in and sat there of which the couple were oblivious, but they never stopped the discussion. A minute or two later, they came to themselves and realised the enormity of the situation and both of them, in one voice, raised their voice in supplication to say, “We are sorry, this news should not go out. It is extremely confidential.” In their despair and dismay they counted on the good will of their friend and expected him to keep confidence. He had grown up as a true gentleman and developed the subconscious habit of NOT listening to affairs not his own. He asked them in all innocence, “What matter?”

The behaviour of Duryodhana with Karna who broke the bead chain of his wife pulling at it hard is that of a true gentleman. Instead of being angry for Karna’s improper behaviour, Duryodhana asked, “Shall I collect the beads or string them?”

An employee some seventy years ago began stealing from the organisation. He was fully maintained by the voluntary organisation he worked for, his family was fed, his children educated, his medical expenses met, his rent paid and on top of that he was given an out-of-pocket allowance equal to the salary of a graduate at that time. With his stolen money he bought the house he lived in. The organisation was outraged and heaved a sigh of relief that at least from then on, one item – the rent -- was not to be paid. But the employee demanded the rent. The employer agreed to pay it. The employer was the Divine Mother.

A true gentleman requires infinite patience to put up with the world whose selfish resourcefulness is inexhaustible.