Sunday, June 15, 2014

The low tide of Chivalry

What transpires in the human search for the Holy Grail of the soul? I believe a journey ensues to follow the path of Chivalry. Chivalry respects women. It protects women from harassment. It never accosts women. It doesn’t hit women despite felt provocation. Chivalry defends women from men who abuse them.

I read social media complaints about the way men treat women. I’ve noticed black eyes on wives and heard the rants of despotic husbands in next door apartments. I’ve called the police. I’ve intervened to protect women from maltreatment. I hope a decent portion of other men have done so as well.

Still, I fulminate against the feeling in some women that being a man equals being a jerk. The vast majority of my men friends over the years have treated women with decent respect. I have to ask. How could women love so many men if most men are jerks? Most men must not be jerks. I surmise that a large enough minority of jerk men spoils the atmosphere between the genders. But they didn’t come from my circles. In my younger years in respect to women I was more interested in getting laid than anything else. I’ve hurt the feelings of a few women in my past by jumping from one bed to another. In my older years I’ve simmered down considerably, as age will bring about. But no matter how elderly I get, I am a man enamored of beautiful women. I thank attractive women out in public who welcome my smiles and appreciative glances.

So what does the Holy Grail have to do with Chivalry? The cup from which Christ and the apostles drank at the Last Supper represents in its originality the Holy Grail. It represents the way to eternal life and timeless beauty. It represents a beauty which doesn’t exist on earth, yet perfection and beauty that men long for in the depths of their being. I suspect I glimpsed a precognition of the Holy Grail when once I beheld a sky so redolent of nature’s beauty that I stood for long moments transfixed. It’s beauty representing every virtue. It’s solemnity representing every desire within to be good. And it deeply hurts because we realize we can never fully attain these virtues. We can only try and sometimes succeed but far too often fail.

In the Middle Ages, people celebrated in song and poetry the idealisms of Chivalry. The ideals imbued society. They were meant to order behavior and instill willingness for right conduct. These ideals for nobility, honor, justice and love may have had some influence, but moral behavior in reality was very seldom practiced. “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century” by Barbara Tuchman reveals extraordinarily barbaric details about the age when Chivalry reigned as high ideal.

In our own time, Chivalry loses influence the more time passes. My 90 year old aunt told me that in the 1950s she would walk unafraid at night on Market Street in downtown San Francisco. Let me explain. A central value of Chivalry is to act with courtesy towards all high or low. I wonder. How much of the downward spiral---the school shootings---the general fear women have of men---the abuse of the elderly---how much of these trends started with the devaluation of courtesy?

I offer a tip. Don’t only give a homeless man or woman a dollar. Linger and chat. Don’t reply to an insult with insult. Be courteous because courtesy will build the foundation of a long lost sense of Chivalry.

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