Try this experiment: Stand in a parking lot near the entrance to a building and watch how young men treat those around them. Car doors are rarely opened for ladies. Entrance doors are often opened just long enough for the young men to get through, slamming shut in the face of others. Rarely will you see someone exhibit a code of conduct that is purposefully thinking of others.
Our society is so self-absorbed that rarely do we see small acts of kindness. A mixture of radical feminism and an unhealthy dose of selfishness slammed the door shut on the most basic of chivalrous deeds. Even within the church our behavior has been influenced. Far too often, individuals think only of themselves focusing on their needs instead of the needs of others.
Here is what I intend to teach my children about chivalry.
In the wee hours of the night on April 19, 1912 the R.M.S. Titanic struck an iceberg and began to quickly sink. As lifeboats were lowered into the water the call rang out, “Women and children first!” The men onboard lived by a code, and that code of life declared that the women should be protected and cared for. A recent high school survey asked teenage boys if they would do the same if they were in that position, and many of the young men laughed at the very thought. Our attitudes have changed a lot in the last 100 years.
This notion of taking care of ladies, weaker individuals, widows, or orphans was once the virtue of knights in what became known as chivalry. Wikipedia indicates the term chivalry was derived “from the French term chevalerie, meaning horse soldiery — and it involves honor, gallantry, and individual training and service to others. Over time its meaning has been refined to emphasize more ideals such as knightly virtues, honor, courtly love, courtesy, and less martial aspects of the tradition. The Knight’s Code of Chivalry was a moral system that stated all knights should protect others who can not protect themselves, such as widows, children, and elders.”
If that last part sounds familiar, it is because James used it to describe pure religion. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
Some would argue that chivalry is dead. I would contend that as long as there are Christian’s around to carry out James’ definition of pure religion then chivalry will be alive and well. Being kind will never go out of style in the sight of God. Let me encourage you to get into the habit of opening doors, helping someone with their coat, lending an arm to someone who is unsteady, offering an umbrella when it rains, protecting those who are weak, etc.
This will become good practice for when you are married. In 1 Peter 3:7 we read “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered” (emp. added). Notice it says weaker vessel but not unequal! Males and females are equal in the sight of God.
I’m pretty sure I still have sore places where I was unexpectedly struck by a sword when you were little pretending to be a knight. I cherish those memories—on occasion you would fiercely protect your sister, and on others she would receive the brunt of your sword as you captured her and took her to your secret hiding place. What you did not know back then was most true knights lived by an ancient code of chivalry. Look over this list from Wikipedia:
The code can be summarized in 11 “commandments:”
• Believe the Church’s teachings and observe all the Church’s directions.
• Defend the Church.
• Respect and defend all weaknesses.
• Love your country.
• Do not recoil before an enemy.
• A single coward could discourage an entire army. Even if the knights knew death was near, they would rather die fighting than show weakness.
• Show no mercy to the Infidel. Do not hesitate to make war with them.
• Perform all duties that agree with the laws of God.
• Never lie or go back on one’s word.
• Be generous to everyone.
• Always and everywhere be right and good against evil and injustice.
While we don’t follow every single one of those today, you can see that these men truly did care for the weak and tried to do right. Don’t give up your sword—the world needs more knights! Consider what the world would be like if we all treated each other with kindness thinking of others.
I want to encourage you to keep chivalry alive in your heart. Never forget the words of Jesus when He said, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:31).
By Brad Harrub, Ph.D.
This article first appeared in the June 2013 issue of “Think” magazine.