The Marks of a Gentleman

Words are like men. They pass through the stages of youth, adolescence, maturity and old age, and in each stage they change and stand for something a little different until there remains only a faint resemblance between the child and the old man. Originally the word ‘gentleman’ implied merely a certain social rank. You were either born a gentleman or you were not, and that was all there to be said about it. Character and behavior counted little or nothing. Traces of this ancient meaning still remain and there are some today who maintain that a gentleman is one who is born into the ranks of the ‘gentry’, the upper classes. It is in this sense that the world gentleman has been used in the following lines: 

When Adam delved, and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?

This narrow definition is, however, rapidly disappearing. But today a gentleman is judged by his personal qualifications and character. What then, in modern conception constitutes a gentleman? No one thing alone is the distinguishing mark of a gentleman. The marks are many. The first requisite is Gentleness. As the very word implies, a gentleman must avoid roughness and harshness in his dealings and speech with fellow humans. Rudeness must be avoided which is the badge of the clown and the savage.

Good manners also constitute an essential trait of the character and the spirit of gentleman. A man is judged by his manners as they say, ‘Manners maketh man.’ A gentleman should know how to behave in all circumstances and to conduct himself with dignity and ease in all his social relations.

A gentleman never inflicts pain. He believes in the golden rule of conduct: do to others as you would like to be done by. Hence, he never hurts the feelings of others. His criticism is always friendly and helpful. He deliberately refrain from dragging others into a controversy. He is kind to his servants and subordinates. He is courteous to his equals and obliging to his superiors. He invariably prefers a smile to a frown, forgiveness to revenge.

Courtesy, especially to women is another characteristic of a gentleman. He is polite and caring to the fair sex. He behaves in an appropriate and kind way while in company of a woman.

It follows, therefore, that in its modern meaning, the term ‘gentleman’ is a title that can only be conferred upon one by others and never assumed as a matter of right and of one’s own accord. 

The following poem Speak Gently by an anonymous poet is still remembered due to its lasting appeal:
Speak gently; it is better
To rule by love than fear
Speak gently; let no harsh word mar
The good we may do here
Speak gently to the little child;
Its love be sure again;
Teach it in accents soft and mild
It may not long remain.
Speak gently to the aged one,
Grieve not the careworn heart,
Whose sands of life are nearly run;
Let such in peace depart.
Speak gently; ‘tis a little thing
Dropped in the heart’s deep well;
The good, the joy that it may bring
Eternity shall tell.