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What It Means to Be a True Gentleman

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  • Pages: 9
  • Word count: 2053
  • Category: virtue

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During the year 1899, in the state of Virginia, there was a man named Mr. John Walter Wayland who, at the time, entered into a contest with only the hopes of coming out as the winner. Many years ago, The Baltimore Sun came up with a competition for the best definition of a “True Gentleman.” After his submission, Mr. John Walter Wayland was nonetheless selected as the winner, with his definition of the “True Gentleman” being printed in the Baltimore newspaper as well as in many other publications thereafter. For many years, the author of the “True Gentleman” was thought to be anonymous, until the 1970’s when the editor of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge manual, The Phoenix, Mr. Joseph Walt, discovered that the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis also used the “True Gentleman” definition in their manual, where they came to find the true author to be Mr. John Walter Wayland. However, it wasn’t until 2001, during the Fraternity Convention in Orlando, Florida, that it was officially adopted as Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s creed.

As a future member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, I am expected to know, understand, and exemplify Mr. John Walter Wayland’s definition of the “True Gentleman,” which reads: “The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own; and who appears well in any company; a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe” (Mr. John Walter Wayland – Virginia 1899). In one way, I view the “True Gentleman” definition as an infallible guide for dealing with other people, whether they be members in Sigma Alpha Epsilon or not. It helps me establish a guidepost for how I should act went put up against a situation, while, at the same time, shaping my behavior and personality into that of a successful and respected man. Although Mr. John Walter Wayland’s definition of the “True Gentleman” may seem unobtainable or impossible to live up to, it does not give, me, any member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, as well as any other person in the world, the rights to just sit back and half-ass the work I should be putting into exemplifying the “True Gentleman.”

No matter where I am, or whatever stressful point I am in my life, I must always remember the definition of the “True Gentleman” and strive to be the respected man that Mr. John Walter Wayland expects each and every one of us to be. Although I may not have the “True Gentleman” definition memorized right now and although I may get frustrated at times, I must not veer away from one of the most essential aspects I will develop over my years as a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. It will take time, but there is nothing more I want then to become a living example of the “True Gentleman,” because I know that if I follow Mr. John Walter Wayland’s words, I will find true respect and success. When analyzing the “True Gentleman,” the creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, it may just seem as if you are getting some philosophical poem thrown at you. However, when you take the time to evaluate each and every line, you will find a specific meaning behind each word and every phrase. However, before I can even look at the lines, I notice the semicolons, which, to me, probably have the most important meaning beyond everything.

The semicolons, in my eyes, signify that every word and every phrase is to be seen as “one,” whereas, if they were to be replaced with periods, it signify both stopping and starting. Right away, I can truly see that everything Mr. John Walter Wayland wrote is to be “done as one.” You are either doing everything or nothing at all; there is no stopping and starting in-between. However, this analogy of doing everything, with no in-between, can also be exemplified through our current pledge class. We are one unit, either all right or all wrong, either all together or all scattered, and either all succeeding or all failing. There is NO in-between. When one person fails, we all fail. It isn’t until we all get something right that we are “truly” right. Now, moving on to each phrase, Mr. John Walter Wayland starts the “True Gentleman” out saying: “The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self control is equal to all emergencies;” First off, when you say the word “gentleman,” it is important that you put extra emphasis on the “man.”

This extra emphasis on “man” should mean something more to us, however. It should imply that we are striving to be like the mature man, and not the child. For example, not having any concern for those around him, the child has always and will always be egocentric. Egocentricity, or the belief that one is the center of the universe, should never be something that a “True Gentleman” strives for. The “gentleman” is neither egocentric nor eccentric, but is a mature social being who respects others in society with the expectations that he will also find that respect paid back. Moving on, the “man of good will” has a genuine interest in other people. This means that we are expected to have a true understanding of what human beings really are and to like them because of their virtues, leaving any of their faults behind. A “man of good will” is also willing to cooperate with others. When he sees an opportunity to pitch in and help, he responds with enthusiasm and does it gladly. We should not be one that waits to be asked upon. Then we get to the word “propriety” that is the automatic sense, which we must all obtain, of doing the right thing at the right time.

This means, then, to have an “acute sense of propriety” is to be alert, or to stay “cool.” No definition of “cool” should be able to satisfy a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, but chances are that the true men you would call “cool” are those who are alert and observing. They watch what is going on around them and they listen more often than they speak. We must also come to the point where others can admire us due to our ability to handle any situation well. This is mostly a matter of self-control, which makes the “gentleman” equal to any situation, whether it is a legitimate emergency or not. Now, admittedly, there are some situations that are hard to meet. However, Mr. John Walter Wayland does not expect any one of us to develop into a miracle worker. This phrase, in short, calls for us to try our absolute best in any emergency to remedy the situation. Mr. John Walter Wayland then continues his definition of the “True Gentleman” by saying: “who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity;” It is clear that all men are not exactly equal in intelligence, talents, abilities, or in social and economic position.

While we may criticize others’ misfortunes and try to do whatever we can to help them overcome their difficulties, we, as “True Gentlemen,” should never make any other man conscious of deficiencies that they have no control over, no matter what they may be. As a “True Gentleman,” I must always remember never to be cruel or unkind to any other man. I must learn how to emphasize the good in others and minimize the bad. Mr. John Walter Wayland then goes on to further define the “True Gentleman” by saying: “who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another;” We all make mistakes and, of course, there are times when we all need to be corrected of our failures. However, as humans, we accept criticism best from those who can take criticism as well as they can hand it out. That’s just how we work. It truly is a real test of the “gentleman” when he finds it necessary to help and give constructive guidance to another without giving offense. We always want to help others as gentlemen, but we must always make sure that, at the same time, we aren’t belittling others of what they can’t do right. Moreover, the “True Gentleman” definition continues with Mr. John Walter Wayland saying: “who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements;”

Any man who feels compelled to humiliate himself before wealth and power is a man to be pitied. He is not and will never be a “True Gentleman.” To exemplify the “True Gentleman,” we must always have proper respect for authority. However, it must be out of a sense of order and fairness. The “True Gentleman” must know that, as an individual, he is just as important as any other man. Nevertheless, while a “True Gentleman” has both self-confidence and pride, we must never boast of our possessions or achievements. I must learn to try and avoid the overuse of the “I” and start including everyone by using “We.” After all, as a pledge class, we are “one” unit. For example, when it comes to sports, I will always play my hardest and never cheat, even in littlest of things. However, if I do lose, I must accept defeat graciously because good sportsmanship is one of the first marks of a “True Gentleman.” We must all understand that our personal achievements will be recognized from others soon enough. Additionally, Mr. John Walter Wayland continues by saying: “who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy;”

We all enjoy dealing with people who are frank and honest, but a “True Gentleman” should try to develop a calm voice and avoid profanity, because the misuse of our language is inexcusable no matter whom you may be addressing. However, one who speaks forcefully and effectively must also remember to speak sincerely and with sympathy. There is NO substitute for sincerity in speech and action. The true proof of sincerity and sympathy lies in one’s constant behavior. It’s not a one-time deal; you must always be sincere and sympathetic to others. Furthermore, Mr. John Walter Wayland continues his “True Gentleman” definition with the phrases: whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own;” A true gentleman’s word is his bond. As “True Gentlemen,” we must become totally dependable and allow others to be certain that you will always keep your promises. However, as “True Gentlemen,” we must also consider the feelings of others. We must always be thoughtful of others, as well as be courteous to others.

We must come to know that courtesy is the habit of truly respecting the feelings of others. I must always keep a place in my mind for others’ opinions and enjoy learning about their viewpoints on subjects. Finally, Mr. John Walter Wayland ends his definition with the phrases: “and who appears well in any company; a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.” As a “True Gentleman,” I must be conscious of my appearance, and since people will often look at me due to my height, I must learn to always have pleasant body expressions. Finally, a man of honor is one with whom virtue is safe. Virtue means truth in character and honesty of conduct, and so the “True Gentleman” must always be a man of virtue in its fullest sense. However, as a “True Gentleman,” I must always do ALL. There is NO in-between, and there is NO room for failure.

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